Meshu lives and works in Maseru the capital city of Lesotho; at 90 years of age he still spends each day in his studio dedicated to producing images that represent the culture of his country.
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Meshu first showed his artistic skills, when at the age of twelve he joined the boys of his village to look after cattle. Like those boys he started making clay models, but he went further and astonished people with the detailed likeness of his figurines of animals and even people.
Later when completing
Standard 5 and 6 at Masite Intermediate School, one of his friends showed a
clay model of his to Fr Patrick, who was impressed and took Meshu to see one of
the English Anglican sisters, who herself painted in water colours. She asked
him to make a clay dove and to paint it white. This dove was then put in the
window of the church, where it pleased the people. He would take the girls to
see the dove to impress them
The sister, who was well schooled in art, then introduced him to formal art and showed him how to paint, using brushes and paper. She helped him by opening new horizons for him: pictures made by human hand. Until then he had thought that the pictures were created by machines, which printed books. Drawing gave Meshu, for the first time a feeling of self-confidence; he was excited to be able to create. But he also experienced negative reactions from teachers and students, who could not appreciate his work.
From the age of 18 Meshu started working in South Africa and finally joined Boswell’s Circus. The people in its publicity department were impressed by his drawings and encouraged him to sketch animals like lions and zebras.
Meeting Ntsu Mokhehle made him more political aware. As a result Meshu used his skills to make cartoons for the Dukathole News. Ntsu encouraged Meshu to return to Lesotho to complete his education, where he also made cartoons for Makatolle and Seboholi newspapers.
In 1958 he went to Ghana to study design at Achimota College. There Meshu was exposed to the sculpture, wood carving and effigies of Africa, but also to a whole range of arts including European art (e.g. Michelangelo). The College emphasised the need to first acquire the necessary techniques before following one’s own line. It was the time that Leopold Senghor was developing the philosophy of Négritude, which attracted him greatly. He then started to develop his own idiom of African Expressionist art. Visits to Europe made him also appreciate artists like Rembrandt and Van Gogh.
During his long life Meshu has been involved in politics in Lesotho, but he also travelled the world with his art. In 1974 Meshu made a long trip to Israel, India, Nepal, Italy, England and France and also attended the Festac Arts Festival in Nigeria, where he met Modibo Keita and Twin Seven Seven. He was invited to the 13th São Paulo Biannual Arts Exhibition (December 1975) in Brazil. Artists from all over the world had been invited. In 1980 Operation Crossroads Africa invited artists from Africa to come to the United States and exhibit their work in a number of museums. Meshu there stayed with Miles Davis, who bought his paintings and met the painter LeRoy Neiman. In 1988 and 2008 he visited Ireland.
His work has been collected by Bill Clinton and hangs in many embassies and government buildings throughout Europe and America.
In 1995 the National University awarded Meshu the Distinguished Service Award for his “Outstanding Contribution to Basotho Culture” and in 2006 His Majesty King Letsie III appointed Meshu to Commander of the Most Loyal Order of Ramatšeatsana “in recognition to his outstanding contribution to the promotion of arts and culture in Lesotho”.
A book with Meshu’s life story has just been presented to His Majesty King Letsie III on 18 March 2016, during Meshu’s 90th Birthday Celebration:
A Life Lived in Love
How I Remember My First 90 Years
as told to
edited by Thabang Ella Motsoasele
A Life Lived in Love
How I Remember My First 90 Years
as told to Gerard Mathot
In this book Meshu talks about his youth, herding cattle, going to school and being exposed to art for the first time around Rothe and Masite.
He then goes to work in South Africa, but is convinced by Ntsu Mokhehle to return to Lesotho to further his education. Subsequently, he travels the world, but returns to Lesotho to be active during the political struggle for independence.
After his imprisonment, following the 1970 coup, he refuses to become part of violent resistance and concentrates on his art, again visiting many countries and meeting many artists.
When Ntsu Mokhehle returns from exile in 1990, he joins him in his political life. After Ntsu’s death he becomes the political adviser to Ntsu’s successor, Pakalitha Mosisili and is very much involved in the 1998 disturbances.
In 2006 he returns to concentrate on his art.
The book also describes Meshu’s relationship with women, his three marriages and his children.
Meshu’s pictures and books are available through Gerard Mathot:
Cell: +266 5884 8748, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mono-coloured paintings : M3,500 and Multi-coloured paintings: M4,000
· Cardboard Tube to protect the painting: M100
· Paperback book: M200
· Possibly transport costs need to be added.