Hlongwa, like other followers of Trevor Makhoba (qv.), such as Themba Siwela (qv.), is an artist concerned with social issues. Whereas Siwela shows a more humorous approach to these in his work, Hlongwa takes a more serious stance, questioning ‘positive’ aspects of the new South Africa. In Aphamadoda (Where are the men?) (plate 55) he interrogates the new policies intended to give equal status to women in society and representivity at all levels. Hlongwa’s painting shows female refuse collectors at work, highlighting the incongruity of women performing a task that was normally assigned only to men. The artist’s disapproval of this is emphasised by the polemical title that he gives to the painting, as well as his own words: ‘Men are usually stronger than women. Nowadays it seems as if our physical strength is the same – it is not. The painting shows the reduction of the dignity of women in South Africa’.
Hlongwa’s stance was partly formed through his attendance at a workshop in Brazil that examined how art could facilitate the improvement of people’s lives and prepare them mentally for social transformation. His solo exhibition in 2005 at the Menzi Mcunu Gallery at the BAT Centre in Durban, from which this work comes, was entitled Social Change. The whole exhibition was focused on the changes that have occurred in South African society since the advent of democracy in 1994 and the impact that the new government has had on the lives of ordinary people.
Born KwaMashu, KwaZulu-Natal, 1978. Training 2002: Studied mechanics at Durban Technical College. A self-taught artist, with capacities in painting, drawing, wirework, mosaics and silk screen printing. Exhibitions 2005: Social Change, Menzi Mcunu Gallery, Bat Centre, Durban. Awards Ink Project Prize, Art for Social Change Prize; Trevor Makhoba’s Legacy Prize, 2004.