Interested in the idea of origins, artist Thebe Phetogo (b. 1993 Botswana) weaves between figurative and abstract landscape painting, in conversation with race and Setswana geography, mythology and knowledge systems.

Containing multiple references beyond just the sacred mountainous caves that are at the heart of his work, Phetogo points towards an indigenous art history. “Each of us ‘makes’ the world. In other words, it is our positionality that allows us to imagine each of our own immediate worlds. In my work I endeavour to make visible the specific ‘world-version’ I carry.”

Explore Thebe’s catalogue for Investec Cape Town Art Fair 2022.

“The works in this selection are from my blackbody and Lowe series. The title of the blackbody work is adopted from the eponymous concept in physics, where a blackbody is “an idealized, hypothetical perfect physical body and absorber and radiator of all electromagnetic energy, with no reflecting power”. The idea of a different origin story and definition for a black body is of interest to me in relation to figurative painting. The namesake concept exists on a spectrum and, in my own adaptation, I take advantage of this malleability and try to visualize this spectrum.

“The Lowe paintings were initially conceived as a stage on which to set the figurative elements in my work. This developed into a sustained interest in landscape painting of a sort. In various Setswana mythologies, Lowe is the both the name of a mountainous cave from which the first humans are said to have emerged, and the deity associated with the cave. Thinking through this site of origins as a psychic entryway opened the door for other systems of knowledge and reference points to come into the work in a non-hierarchical fashion. I combine incongruent visual elements from beyond the field of painting: “oracle-like” image systems of mapping, and data graphs without a key, are reduced to pure form and colour to build up a picture. This offers distance and opens up possibilities to think about the idea of landscape for myself.”

Based in Gaborone, Botswana, Phetogo holds an MFA from Michaelis School of Art, University of Cape Town. Represented by Guns & Rain, he has already exhibited widely, including in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Lagos and New York. His first US solo was held in late 2021 at Von Ammon, Washington DC. Phetogo was a finalist in the pan-African Emerging Painting Invitational (2020) and is a member of The Botswana Pavilion.



Exhibitions

  • 2022 When We See Us: A Century of Black Figuration in Painting, Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town
  • 2022 Paris Internationale, Von Ammon Co., Paris
  • 2022 FNB Art Joburg, Guns & Rain, Johannesburg
  • 2022 Lofoten International Art Festival, Norway
  • 2022 African Galleries Now, African Art Galleries Association, Artsy
  • 2022 SOLO: insight-out, Investec Cape Town Art Fair, Guns & Rain, Cape Town
  • 2021 blackbody Rogues, Solo show, Von Ammon Co, Washington Dc
  • 2021 Frieze NYC, Half Gallery, New York
  • 2021 FRIEND ZONE, Half Gallery, New York
  • 2021 Ko ga Lowe, Solo Show, Guns & Rain, Johannesburg
  • 2020 blackbody Composites, kó Artspace, Lagos, Nigeria,
  • 2020 A Confluence, Unintended, 99 Loop Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa
  • 2020 African Galleries Now, Guns and Rain, Artsy x AAGA (Online)
  • 2020 Finalists’ Exhibition, Emerging Painting Invitational (Online)
  • 2020 The Botswana Pavilion – Collective Ties, Online (With the support of an ANT Mobility Fund from Pro Helvetia)
  • 2020 Fresh Voices, Guns and Rain, Johannesburg (Online), South Africa
  • 2019 Bogasatswana – Rebuilding the boat while sailing (MFA exhibition), Michaelis Galleries. Cape Town
  • 2019 Cassirer Welz Award Exhibition, Strauss and Co. Fine Art Auctioneers, Johannesburg
  • 2019 Summer Salon, Bag Factory Artist Studios, Johannesburg
  • 2019 The Botswana Pavilion – Subjective Nationhood, Botswana National Museum & Art Gallery, Gaborone, Botswana
  • 2019 The Botswana Pavilion- No Return, Gallery Momo, Cape Town, South Africa
  • 2018 Eclectica Collection, Eclectica Contemporary, Cape Town

Grants, Residencies and awards

  • 2021 Art Connection Africa residency, The Bag Factory. February – April (Johannesburg, South Africa)
  • 2020 Emerging Painting Invitational Prize (Finalist)
  • 2020 Arthouse Foundation residency. January – March (Lagos, Nigeria)
  • 2019 Cassirer Welz Award (finalist)
  • 2016 Absa L’Atelier Top 100
  • Founding Member, The Botswana Pavilion artist collective

Thebe Phetogo on Artsy

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