The Johannesburg Art Gallery opened the Thami Mnyele and Medu Art Ensemble exhibition in the last months of 2008 under the curatorship of the gallery’s Director, Clive Kellner. Thami Mnyele & Medu Art Ensemble Retrospective is a book which brings together the myriad artworks exhibited and the stories of the original members of Medu who created them in a generously illustrated work.
In the aftermath of the Soweto uprisings an association of exiled artists was formed in Botswana where its members felt safe to practice their craft out of reach of the apartheid government in a time when violent military action was the order of the day in South Africa. The group of artists, who preferred to call themselves “cultural workers” due to the political framework of their creative skills, became known as Medu, the Sepedi word for “roots”.
The retrospective not only focuses on this group that perished violently 23 years earlier, but also relates the story of Medu’a particular cultural struggle from exile. Thamsanqa ‘Thami’ Mnyele featured at the centre of the exhibition. His talent as an artist and his political activism were fundamental to consolidating Medu’s political and cultural profile. The exhibition follows Thami’s intellectual and creative development as an artist, through his images and texts which mirrored the plight but also the dreams and aspirations of South Africa’s disenfranchised.
The exhibition and book document a particular chapter in South Africa’s struggle for democracy by telling the story of artist and activist Thami Mnyele and a group of cultural workers in exile in Botswana called Medu Art Ensemble. This is the first time that their history is being told.