Being Creative, and Human too, with Musonga Mbogo (Hi mum!)

Art Not Apart ran in Canberra just before the final hours of shut down for COVID-19. As gallery doors closed across the country, new phrases such as self-isolation, social-distancing and quarantine were ushered in. For Musonga Mobogo, turning 21 in the middle of a pandemic has seen him ‘pump the breaks’ on gallery meetings for 2020 as Art Not Apart generally signifies the beginning of his creative year, but for 2020 this could well be the first and last. Mbogo defines the silver lining of the coming months as a time to ‘resurface old ideas and develop new ones’. He sees the opportunity to study, plan and create abundantly but with a sense of trepidation in anticipating what lies ahead. With all the emotional toil and anxiety ahead, perhaps artists need their community now more than ever.

Mbogo produces paintings, drawings, graphics and clothing. Inspired by Basquiat, his works are grungy and dynamic, rushed and layered with spray paint and song lyrics written like notes. We read the lyrics of Frank Ocean, Earl Sweatshirt and Flume which play like eternal records in the background as Mbogo works systematically across series. The lyrics have the effect of a timestamp that recall a moment. They are blocked and stacked to form shapes on the canvas amidst resurfacing motifs of the face, the letter ‘a’ and the tree.

Musonga Mbogo. Photograph courtesy of Rohan Thomson of the Molonglo Group

Whilst Mbogo describes ‘each piece is its own chaotic experience’ there is a careful, methodical intent in their rhythm underlined by the boldness of a free hand. Working in both small notebook sizes to 2-metre lengths, his canvas’ are raw and un-stretched, hanging like stiffened mud cloths with layerings of paint and oil stick. His paper-based works have edges which are frayed, remaining pointedly ‘unapologetic’.

As a third culture kid growing up in Canberra with his parents who are of Zimbabwe and Tanzanian heritage, Mbogo defines a new emerging space that is unique because of his positioning not necessarily as ‘other’ but as ‘middle’. His works are full of energy with a freedom that sits comfortably in the hipster haunts of Nishi Gallery and Braddon storefronts. Multiple diaries are scrawled with notes, thin pencil lines and textured with the oily ends of pastel stubs. They are fuelled by a complicated swag of experience. They sit as part of global conversations around African identities amidst the diaspora, speaking specifically of family, black experience and identity politics etched as a localised phenomenon. Mbogo notes that with the coming months, ‘in addition to being creative, you should be human too, Hi mum’. Don’t forget to FaceTime.

Rosalind Lemoh is a writer and artist based in Canberra