monumental art by nicholas hlobo reflects xhosa culture
 
monumental art by nicholas hlobo reflects xhosa culture
jul 28, 2013

monumental art by nicholas hlobo reflects xhosa culture

monumental art by nicholas hlobo reflects xhosa culture
ingubo yesizwe, 2008
leather, rubber, gauze, ribbon, steel, found ball-and-claw chair leg, butcher’s hook, chain
150 x 260 x 3000cm
image courtesy of stevenson gallery

 

 

born in cape town, south african artist nicholas hlobo draws from his xhosa roots to inform his body of work, which comprises massive sculptures constructed from an array of natural and scavenged materials. questions of identity and ethnicity run throughout his pieces, and ideas of masculinity and gender are strikingly reflected through a visual and tactile contrast in the materials with which he works. a speaker at the 2013 design indaba conference, the artist recently closed his first solo show at stevenson gallery in johannesburg.

 

many of the materials that hlobo uses serve as visual metaphors for an array of cultural phenomenon, and his works are not only named after particular ritualistic practices but consciously recall the rich history and tradition of the xhosa culture.

 

‘ingubo yesizwe’ (‘clothes or blanket of the nation’) is comprised of hundreds of tiny stitched pieces of discarded leather and rubber, sewn together to become the multifaceted skin of a large animal-like form. the work references the tradition in xhosa culture of commemorating important milestones with the ceremonial slaughter of a cow; in the death ritual in particular, the animal’s hide is used to cover the corpse before burial to protect the deceased in his or her voyage to the afterlife, the meaning of ‘ingubo yesizwe’.

 

in this work, leather is thus used to consciously represent traditional xhosa values and practices, while rubber signifies modernization. although seemingly perfectly integrated throughout much of the sculpture, the illusion is unwoven by the spilling out of cords and fabric in parts of the sculpture, a visual echo of the ceremonial slaughter.

 

 

 

monumental art by nicholas hlobo reflects xhosa culture
ingubo yesizwe, 2008
leather, rubber, gauze, ribbon, steel, found ball-and-claw chair leg, butcher’s hook, chain
150 x 260 x 3000cm
image courtesy of stevenson gallery

 

 

 monumental art by nicholas hlobo reflects xhosa culture
ingubo yesizwe, 2008
leather, rubber, gauze, ribbon, steel, found ball-and-claw chair leg, butcher’s hook, chain
150 x 260 x 3000cm
image courtesy of stevenson gallery

 

 

monumental art by nicholas hlobo reflects xhosa culture
ingubo yesizwe, 2008
leather, rubber, gauze, ribbon, steel, found ball-and-claw chair leg, butcher’s hook, chain
150 x 260 x 3000cm
image courtesy of stevenson gallery

 

 

monumental art by nicholas hlobo reflects xhosa culture
tyaphaka, 2012 (detail)
rubber, ribbon, hosepipe,
packaging material
300 x 400 x 10000cm
image courtesy of stevenson gallery

 

 

in ‘tyaphaka’ (‘ball with water’ or ‘eye’ in the xhosa language), a hulking form of rubber inner tubing lies on the gallery floor, with ribbon appendages extending in every direction throughout the exhibition space. the assemblage recalls the image of a whale, beached ashore, its body washed with debris or alternately revealed and hidden according to the movement of the tides. ‘this in itself is a rich metaphor for surrender to the elements over which we have no control’ hlobo explains, reflecting:

 
‘[tyaphaka] is a play on the idea that things can be submerged or brought up from below the surface. this may be extended to our personal lives, and the lack of control we have over things and people coming in and out of our lives, like the tides, and the impact these elements have on our lives over time.’

 

 

 

monumental art by nicholas hlobo reflects xhosa culture
tyaphaka, 2012 (detail)
rubber, ribbon, hosepipe,
packaging material
300 x 400 x 10000cm
image courtesy of stevenson gallery

 

 

monumental art by nicholas hlobo reflects xhosa culture
balindile I, 2012
inner rubber tube, ribbons,
canvas, hosepipe, steel
160 x 50cm (dimensions variable)
image courtesy of stevenson gallery

 

 

in one of hlobo’s more recent works, ‘balindile I’, the familiar materials of rubber and ribbon return, but their appearance is more formidable and the scale more human. the work’s title means ‘waiting in anticipation, ready to go’ in xhoso, which a director of johannesburg’s stevenson gallery reveals is much a part of hlobo’s own creative process of continual transformation and discovery. a tensely wound spiral of rubber tubing stretches out along the floor before uncoiling into a richly draped rubber skin, black and fluorescent green ribbons breaking up the otherwise smooth if not tangled forms.

 

here as in all of his sculptures, the deliberate contrast of industrial materials against delicate mediums creates an experience of tension in the viewer, and becomes a framework for questions of gender conventions, the balance between female and male energies, and sexual identity. ‘balindile I’ is owned by the tate museum.

 

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