Lesotho’s own Manoni Lehlohonolo Rametse is a local artisan with an undeniable talent. He is a wire sculptor who produces functional art (such as wine holders, lamps, mirrors and jewelry cases) with an aesthetic that is steeped in traditional heritage. We shared a few words to hear of his one-of-a-kind wire creations and his journey with his art.
Q: Newspaper publications have used the term “patriotic” in reference to you. Do you consider yourself patriotic? if so, where does this stem from; why did you choose this angle?
A: Yes, I consider myself very patriotic, hence the use of the Mokorotlo in a lot of my sculptures. I remember that while growing up, I liked to look at old monuments and draw inspiration from there. I also watched television shows such as Top Billing, the Home Channel, etc. I started off experimenting with different ideas and found myself incorporating the Mokorotlo into my designs, and my vision worked. It let me fuse something unique to Lesotho into my pieces that displayed my patriotism and hopefully awaken it in others. I guess I did not necessarily choose a patriotic angle, it chose me and manifested in my work.
Q: Describe your relationship with wire in two words.
A: Heart; and Blood.
Q: Wire art has commonly existed in basic forms i.e. wire cars built by children, but clearly your Effigy Art & Design.CO company never set out to be basic. The coupling of wire with traditional symbolism and smooth contouring in your works captures a sense of flow, continuity, and Basotho pride. What drove you to elevate the craft to the scale you have, and why did you stay so loyal to wire as the core feature in (and medium of) your art?
A: I realized early on that I could perfect my skill. I call my art a calling as I realized I have a talent for wire art that could even surpass that of my peers. I compared my pieces with those of other really good artists and saw that if I kept on improving my skill, I could be one of, if not the best with wire. There’s a brother of mine who also does wire art who gave me some great advice, telling me that every artist has a unique identity; don’t work to duplicate what others do, always try to be authentic and do things the way you see them, not how you see them being done. That really helped me find my style of designing. The reason I chose to specialize in wire as a medium is that I find it gives me more flexibility in terms of sculpting my visions to reality. I also like that wire art is a rather niche market which makes my pieces all the more exclusive.
Q: With over a decade of honing and refining your art, what evolution have you seen in your catalogue. When looking at your earlier works versus your current pieces, e.g. from wire cars to your unique wire wine holders, how would you say have your skills developed?
A: My skills have developed immensely. I spent years constantly working on honing my talent before producing sculptures for sale, learning how to best execute my visions. Back when I was making wire cars, I was learning how to make my work symmetrical as the left and right sides of the car have to be identical, increasing my speed, and perfecting my art. Now I can say that the figures I’ve created, such as the wire chess set, dimensionally and in terms of craftmanship, is a masterpiece.
Q: Your artwork has been displayed in both local and international spaces. Were you to have a magic wand, where would you love to see your work showcased?
A: I would love to see my work in Dubai… and Italy. In Dubai, as it is an innovation hub and Italy for its artistic history.
Q: Of all your art pieces, which holds the most significance to you, and why?
A: All my pieces have unique value to me as each is linked to certain memories and experiences, so I can’t choose one. From the guitar keychains to guitar sculptures, the Mokorotlo wine holders to Mokorotlo lamps, the chess set to the local company logos and others, all my creations are special to me.
Q: Which organizations, if any, have you encountered that have helped you pursue your art form? Based on your own battles and experiences as an industry insider, what do you think can be done to support careers in the arts in our country?
A: With regards to supporting the arts, I think the corporate sector can engage more with artists, and have mandates to work with and to uplift local artisans from even the design level. Art competitions and other platforms that showcase local work are also very important. That could uplift many talented artists in the country. I have been fortunate enough to produce works for big organizations which really motivated me and encouraged business. But there are also many individuals who appreciate my statuettes and purchase pieces for their personal collections.
Q: For many years in Lesotho a career in the arts has often (and unfairly) been regarded as a laughable matter. How have you managed to have longevity with your artform; what do you draw on to help you persevere.
A: Like I said for me it’s really more of a calling. From the onset I knew I had to follow my passion and not the money, the money would come from doing something I love. One of the guidelines my father gave me was that whatever I do, I should strive to be the best at it and build a business from it. His words stuck. I found something I love, I’m working to be my best at it and my company Effigy, was born from it.
Q: Looking back at your journey thus far and knowing what you do now, what would you say to your younger self.
A: I’m proud of the risk you took in pursuing your dream. It is true that this path is not filled with what they call materialistic comforts but somehow with the power of God, you will make it through the tunnel to the light. And hey my guy, save up for those rainy days, ha-ha! But yea, keep walking that tunnel.
Q: What words can you share with the youth – particularly fellow creatives such as yourself – looking to make a mark in the art space in Lesotho, and the world beyond
A: First off, you have to be yourself. Stay as authentic as possible, love what you do. Every time you think of quitting, try remembering why you started. Persistence works; as they say our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in getting up every time we fall. Be careful to not be exploited for your work. Don’t quit until it’s game over.
Bending wire to his imaginative will, Manoni Lehlohonolo Rametse is an artiste whose portfolio exudes both his exceptional conceptualization and the essence of Basotho culture. His originality in perspective has captured the attention of many and his journey highlights how self-belief and a passion in your dreams can manifest in a beauty that others could little imagine. With the arts still requiring greater support in Lesotho, his undeterred perseverance in his craft is an inspiration to others to follow their vision unapologetically in the understanding that truly, your time is coming.