Breaking stereotypes in Black Art: Jason Langa's creative process
By Lindelwa Masuku
The "radicalisation" and "institutionalisation" of Black art refers to how black artists and their work have been shaped by political, social, and cultural forces.
Historically, Black artists have often been expected to create works that address the issues of racism and oppression faced by the black community.
This expectation reflects the broader societal view that Black art should serve as a form of activism and resistance against systemic inequalities and injustices.
On the other hand, the demand for Black artists to create work that showcases happiness and comfort in their spaces is not as prevalent in mainstream art institutions.
This disparity may be due to a lack of representation and visibility for Black artists and their work within these spaces, as well as a persistent stereotype that Black art is solely concerned with political and social issues.
This week on ‘Visionaries in Focus’ we sit down with Artist Proof Studio graduate, Jason Langa and have a conversation about his practice as a contemporary artist.
Here’s how Jason Langa navigates this as an artist.
What made you want to pursue art as a profession/career?
Much like most people, it was a hobby for me at first, I was just doing it because I enjoyed it—but when I was in high school, I think grade 10, my art teacher told me about how she sold a painting for R30K, that made me understand that I can take this skill that I have, and make a career out of it.
I realised that if I am meant to take this talent and make something of it, let me go for it, I understand that this is a talent, it’s for me, whatever I do, it’ll always be there, so I made a decision to get into this, and I do, it had to be 100% fully.
There were tough decisions I had to make, like getting into Wits, and leaving Wits, because I didn’t feel that there was much room for me to create the kind of art I wanted to share - and even after that, where do I go, what do I do.
Every decision I had to make had to point to me making it as the artist I wanted to be.
What’s your daily routine, when you wake up, what do you do?
Currently, I need to create a new routine [laughs] because, it was normally waking up and going to school, but now that I’m out of school, it’s been waking up and creating something, there’s always a painting to do.
My routine is mostly me working during the night, that’s when I’m most productive, during the day I’d go out, visit art galleries.
I also think that I need to find a balance between work and life, my living and working space are the same, so I need to find time to get out to recalibrate myself and not lose myself in the work that I do, but get familiar with the art space and the people within that space.
In terms of the art, your paintings, what makes you decide on one—what inspires you to create?
Social Media is one of the biggest influences in my work, I know some people find it to be a distraction, but if used to your advantage, it could be a huge benefit.
My current series focuses on people being in states of relaxation, bliss, and enjoyment, one of the paintings I’ve already done is of a woman on a ‘solo date’ in a restaurant, this is based on conversations I’ve observed on social media, this is what people actually do.
I wanted to portray, people relaxing, people going out with friends, moods of relaxation, and how people use those environments to calm themselves, and use them as modes of meditation and/or healing.
I’m inspired by these steps that people take to enjoy their lives, relaxing, being comfortable, and navigating that to heal.
Into his work...
Jason has done a series before that focused on the more heavy and deep topics, like depression and anxiety, he had paintings of 5 figures with their eyes closed to represent a state of meditation and pure emotions.
The colours he chose also represent the feeling of the figures, but also what he as a painter/artist is feeling at that particular time, and he wanted to show that - it’s a communication of emotions.
His current style...
Social media has been his biggest influence, he continues to explain. It’s reality and shows people in their natural state, that’s what he prefers to show in his work, something that is more relatable, natural, something that you see every day.
His take on the ‘radicalisation’ of art, especially Black art…
"It is difficult sometimes for me to speak on issues that I have never lived through or experienced firsthand, not that I’m ignorant to them, but I find it to be more genuine and easier to tell stories that I’ve lived through, experienced as opposed to speaking on political topics, whereas I am not into politics like that.
I feel that this takes away from the genuineness of an artist’s art process.
I am trying to be as authentic and genuine with my art as possible, and the way for me to do that is to speak from my experiences and observations."
Jason ends with sharing how important is it that Black artists are not limited by these expectations and can create art that reflects their own experiences and perspectives, whether it's political, personal, or otherwise.
There has been a growing movement to expand the representation and recognition of Black art in all its forms and to give black artists the freedom to express themselves in a variety of ways.
As a Black artist and creative in the contemporary era, I (author) have often found myself navigating between two opposing forces in the art world.
On one hand, I am expected to create works that address the issues of racism and oppression faced by the Black community and serve as a form of activism and resistance against systemic inequalities and injustices.
However, this emphasis on political and social issues in Black art often overlooks the complexity and diversity of the Black experience.
It oversimplifies the Black identity and reduces it to a singular narrative of oppression and struggle.
This can lead to a lack of representation and visibility for black artists and their work within mainstream art institutions.
It is important to acknowledge that black artists are not solely defined by their experiences of oppression and that there is a rich and varied cultural heritage within the black community that deserves to be celebrated and represented.
Works that showcase the happiness and comfort within black spaces are just as important as those that address political and social issues.
These works offer a different perspective on the black experience and serve to challenge stereotypes and broaden the representation of black artists and their work within mainstream art institutions.
As a black artist, it can be challenging to navigate these expectations and demands within the art world.
However, it is important to remember that the experiences of Black artists are diverse and multifaceted and that the works they create should reflect this diversity.
By challenging stereotypes and pushing for greater representation and visibility for Black artists and their work within mainstream art institutions, we can help to create a more inclusive and diverse art world.
Next week we give the paint brush to another visionary in focus.