Deciphering aspects of Azaria Mbatha's worldview located in specific religious themes and images employed in his work.
Azaria Mbatha's (1941 - ) work incorporates the many and various influences he has experienced throughout his life. Writers have tended towards essentialist readings of his work emphasizing proselytizing, resistance or traditional Zulu aspects of his work discretely. This is not sufficient to gain an accurate representation of his work which exhibits a spontaneous response to Biblical narratives as he critically appropriates and modifies texts at will. He utilizes narrative to express and explore his own circumstances creating works which are able, in turn, to express the plight of anyone who identifies with his experiences. His work functions both autobiographically and didactically and aspires to be applicable and encouraging to both the individual and the general public, regardless of one's culture of origin. This dissertation aims to present a holistic reading of Mbatha's oeuvre taking into account, amongst others, his Lutheran kholwa upbringing, the situation in South Africa (especially in the years under Apartheid), his familial ties to the Zionist church, his training at the Evangelical Lutheran Church Art and Craft Centre and in Sweden, his foundation within traditional Zulu cosmology, the influence of members of the Lutheran Theological College on his theological views, his position as an artist of the diaspora as a result of his self imposed exile in Sweden and his own interpretation of the Bible, influenced most profoundly by his father. Such a reading of his work is necessary to decipher aspects of Mbatha's idiosyncratic approach to the various influences he applied to his work in order to outline his personal worldview. His work encompasses many themes, of which three are covered here. Firstly, his depictions of scenes from the book of Revelation are examined, as are his various portrayals of the figure of Jesus Christ. Finally, his images of reconciliation in its various forms are considered. Interpretations of these works are informed by a consideration of the various influences already mentioned combined with a visual analysis of each work. It is hoped that this dissertation will aid in understanding the idiosyncrasies and complexities present in Mbatha's work and thus aid in preventing further essentialist readings of comparable artists. For the purposes of this study I have limited my interpretations to his linocuts only.