Art comes to life at Opal Center

Michael Tumelo Moloi gestures during The Living Art performance at the Opal Center, which also featured musician Ratie D and Moloi’s paintings.

Cottage Grove’s Art Walk is regularly a place of fascinating art and amazing artists, and October’s Art Walk was no different.

From Oct. 28 to 30, The Living Art was on display in the Opal Center on Main St. It featured local artists and musicians Tumelo Michael Moloi, Joshua Caraco, John Mambira, Ratie Dangarembwa-Morgan and John Page and the show was created by Moloi. 

The interior of the Opal Center was adorned by Moloi’s paintings for guests to enjoy while they listened to traditional African music and watched South African style Gumboot dance, an experience Moloi aptly titled ‘The Living Art,’ an immersion into a multitude of artistic expressions.

The music was created incorporating the Gumboot dance itself, which involves rhythmic stomping in gumboots, or rain boots, and a combination of instruments like the mbira, bongos and djembe from Zimbabwe and the kora from West Africa, along with a violin.

“It’s hard to say what genre the music belongs to because it is a music of its own in a way,” said Moloi.

The dance itself is deeply rooted in South African history. It originates from the time of the migrant labor system and oppressive Apartheid Pass Laws. In the gold mines where they worked, men used the stomping of their boots to communicate because they were forbidden from communicating with each other to ‘keep order’ as the working conditions were so poor. Each miner though had their own unique cultural ties and added that to the rhythms and it became an artistic expression and dance. 

It even became a type of protest when the mine bosses forced the miners to perform. These bosses were none the wiser that the miners’ performance was communicating complaints of the poor conditions of the mines and even mocking the bosses right in front of them. 

In a more modern context, the dance can be found in many places in South Africa and helps to communicate the history of the mines and the suffering under apartheid rule. And, of course, the performances can also be found around the world wherever there is someone who knows the dance.

Moloi himself learned to dance at a very young age and has loved it since. “In dance I felt peace,” he said, “everything just disappeared on stage. … It was Zen. I could just go for days.”

The paintings are a more recent art for Moloi, but are no less significant. When he worked in Cirque de Soleil in the mid 2000s up until 2016 he became interested in the set and prop pieces and the art of creating them. When he was injured in Las Vegas he found himself out of the show for a year, bored and desperate for something to do.

He found solace in a variety of things from making jewelry to carving on wood and even managed to do some art for the company and his boss would purchase pieces for the shows. Years later, Moloi still has a couple of the first pieces he did.

With painting he started on canvas a little later, and started using colors and experimenting with how colors can go together. At first, he was nervous to put in too much color, but as he grew comfortable he became more expressive.

“Do I still get nervous? Yes. When you put a color and you just go, ‘oh this doesn’t work’ and you go ‘ughhh’ and you go away,” he said. “And then you might come back and you look at it differently. So I got kind of excited to put more colors in it and make it brighter.” 

The planning for the event was also aided by B.J. Jones, who runs Cottage Grove’s Music Money nonprofit, Michele Rose and Peter Dumbleton at the Opal Center for Arts and Education, Steven Williams and Jacqueline Moloi. Jones also extended thanks to volunteer sound and light technician for the event, Lance Troxel, board member at the Opal Center.

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