- Reflections on a painting by Lucas Mahome, by Catherine Schieve
I met Lucas Mahome 20 years ago, in Johannesburg South Africa where I was participating in a course in International Education in 1998. He was an up-and-coming visual artist already exhibiting his work in major galleries, and was selling some of his drawings and paintings on paper to visitors from overseas. The work is vibrant and the pieces I bought are rooted in the local culture of the Alexandra township. Lately I did a bit of research on his work, and came across an image of a painting made in the year 1990, when Lucas must have been 18 years old: it is titled Apostic Baptism and shows the local church community in mid-baptising ritual, in local waters surrounded by vegetation and a village in the background. I do not know if he painted it from memory or from an existing image. The faces are expressive and there is lovely detail of the vestments of ministers and worshipping community; the baptisand is half submerged, reclining in the water, eyes closed, face full of emotion. His face is cradled lovingly by two men in attendance; one young and one old. There are thirteen people; one child sits on an Elder's shoulders. Many crosses play across the scene; on clothing, in peoples' hands, embroidered and held in hands, even in the intersections of tree branches. Peoples' faces are jubilant, contemplative, fun-filled - showing a range of feeling. One man's pant legs are rolled up and the water is calm and feels cool to the eye. One central figure seems to be singing or in mid-proclamation. Two village onlookers watch from a distance; one with a faint cross on her garments and the other holding a large cross. It is a joyous scene, full of promise and colour. The trees dance. It is full of inward and outward meaning; a closeup shows a butterfly hovering just over the baptised as he submerges and emerges.
Interestingly, at auction this piece sold for $10 US, labelled as "outsider art" - a term usually used in reference to the creative work of the untrained and/or mentally challenged. We can only guess how this painting made its way to the US and how its meaning came to be misplaced so quickly.