The Portfolio: Neo Matloga

When I began my residency at De Ateliers in Amsterdam, I was primarily an oil painter. At that time, I took many pictures as a way to document. I came back here and I was also taking a lot of photographs of images from newspapers, magazines, and also family albums. If I saw interesting expressions, I’d snap that.

Living my second year of residency, I felt that oil painting was too sophisticated and I wanted something that would accentuate my rawness. So I started making line drawings; then I started adding some ink to the line drawings. I printed the photos that I had and I started cutting up the faces with scissors, and grouped them according to their features. 

Initially, I had about 48 collages of faces, politicians, sportsmen and -women, family members, musicians and actors. What they had in common was that they are portraits of black people. I arranged them into a grid and titled that installation Black Collages. I then moved on to painting with ink and charcoal and collaging permanently, seeing how these materials cohered.

The drying process of the material I use is quick, so when working I have no choice but to be confident in my execution. The process forces me to be brave. 

As I continued to work with these materials, honing a voice, my output began to take the shape of a political statement without direct intent referencing the racial norms of my environment.

At some point, living in Amsterdam had me frustrated, I was mad at the racial politics in the Netherlands; for example, people having ignorant notions about blackface. I’d come across it in a very subtle way, especially in the streets. What I noticed was that blackface is seen as a distortion by mainly only Dutch black people. In a way, my installation was disappropriating that racist gaze. It was a reaction to many things, and I could say that there was a childishness to the work as I was exploring.

I was and still am drawn to everyday scenes because I wanted to depict people continuing with their lives. Because of the materials I use, the process can be unpredictable, leaving me kind of surprised. I marvel at how characters get into conversation with one another on canvas. Not knowing what the characters were saying was the motivation to make the next painting…

‘Modjadji o stout’ is part of Neo Matloga’s exhibition of mixed-media collages titled Back of the Moon, running at the Stevenson until June 30

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