Having served as a photographer for over 20 years, spending a great deal of that time in the newsroom, Lefoko ‘Ras Fox’ Mogapaesi says it is now fine art season.
“When I came to Gabz as a young man, I was taking photos. But drawing and photography is the same thing. It’s all visual art and I’m a visual artist!” the 40-year-old exclaims from his residence/studio at Gaborone’s Block 3 location where he is holed up honing his craft.
After years as a newspaper lens man, Mogapaesi ran Magnum Photos, a media services company, and ended up rubbing shoulders with CBD big cats.
However, in 2018, he decided it was time for a change.
“You see, nowadays we are in the fourth industrial revolution. People have cellphones with very sophisticated cameras and editing apps so the need for a photographer is diminishing. Very soon we will have robots programmed to take photos and that’s why the value of paintings, drawings and other handmade crafts is going up. People are building houses and need art!”
Mogapaesi stares at the soil a few feet from the brick he is seated on. It’s a blank stare. Perhaps the interview has brought back memories.
He brings his fingers and thumb tips together and, in his usual monotone, continues, “As a media photographer, I didn’t have a chance to practice art. Now I can spend a whole week in the house either drawing or painting.”
Ras Fox has just completed a penciled Haile Selassie and is working on a commissioned Bushiri portrait. The legendary Ethiopian Emperor, a revered figure in the Rastafarian movement, is an evident favourite.
The artist’s voice rises an octave and he turns to face me. He explains that Rastafarianism has always been his calling; from when his three-year-old body started rejecting meat to the time he joined the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
“I did this to honour Selassie as my King. Rasta is the true religion for the black man. It teaches righteousness, encourages working with your God-given hands and eating the right organic food. Selassie also wanted us to keep our kids from drugs because they are the enemy’s weapons.
“Mussolini’s Italy brought drugs and disease upon the people and Rastaman challenged him. We must do the same and stop eating junk food,” urges the devout Rastafarian, his long dreads tucked away in a scarf such that it looks like a pointy hat.
He explains the turban is a sign of his elder-man position within the Rasta community.
“I am a high priest after being anointed by another high priest impressed by my righteousness and adherence to Rasta principles,” he tells Voice Entertainment.
Since turning to the pencil two years ago, the creative has produced more than a 100 paintings and drawings.
Although he terms this time as ‘practice years’, Ras Fox feels he is ready to unleash his artistic messages on the unsuspecting public.
“This is the time for themed exhibitions and partnerships with other artists and stakeholders,” he adds.
Mogapaesi is not new to exhibitions. He has been part of the National Museum Art exhibition and had a studio at Thapong Visual Arts Centre.
But that’s all in the past. Though he has sold some artworks and received occasional commissions, Rasta says up until now, it has mostly been practice.
His tourism and culture-themed artwork is ready for exhibition but there is no money.
“I need to get my art out there so that it can communicate with the people but an exhibition is expensive,” he explains, his head beckoning towards his numerous creations behind him. Some of his sketches include African hats, baobab tree, a rhino, elephant and other cultural, wildlife and food drawings.
“Canvas and other materials for painting and other styles are expensive; that’s why most of my creations are in pencil,” he adds.
The question about his future prompts Ras Fox to look up in contemplation.
“I want to have galleries across Southern Africa and hold exhibitions all over the world. Most importantly, I want to engage the youth in art so that they can stay away from Babylon drugs and poisoning. Yes, I!”