Sunday, 8 April 2012

Nicholas Hlobo


It's hard to figure out what the giant piece of art is, as it slumbers in front of you. The large-scale sculpture Ingubo Yesizwe by this year's Standard Bank Young Artist for Visual Art, Nicholas Hlobo is now on exhibition at the Michael Stevenson gallery in Woodstock, after traveling the great seas and back again.

The sculpture was the centrepiece of Hlobo's exhibition at Tate Modern, London, which ran from December 2008 to March 2009 in the Level 2 Gallery. Made of leather off-cuts, rubber, ribbons and gauze, with an underlying steel structure, the work resembles a great, slouching creature, measuring 30 metres from its head to the tip of its long tail.

The title of the work, Ingubo Yesizwe, translates as 'clothes or blanket of the nation', referring to the Xhosa ritual whereby cowhide is used to cover a corpse before burial to protect the deceased as they enter the afterlife. The Tate Modern exhibition curator, Kerryn Greenberg, wrote: 'Ingubo Yesizwe implies protection, integration, and the potential for transformation, both of the materials Hlobo uses and the country he lives in.

visual diary
Thoba, utsale umnxeba” (2010)
Nicholas Hlobo’s handmade costumes serve the function of helping to establish his character within his performance pieces. In the piece above, the title of which means “to lower onself and make a call” in Xhosa, Hlobo wears his robe and cap in meditative concentration in order to communicate with “the space, the museum, the gallery, the location of the museum, the culture — the culture is almost foreign to me,” as he says in a interview. Hlobo’s practice includes sculptural pieces which sometimes incorporate clothing as ways to challenge or interrogate gender, sexuality, and culture and relationship of each to different notions such as comfort, pleasure, or protection.

ingubu 1

1 comment:

  1. Nicholas Hlobo has developed a distinctive body of work, stitching and weaving disparate materials such as ribbon, rubber, gauze and leather to create seductively tactile sculptures and drawings. His works are richly layered, anchored in references to Xhosa culture and the experience of life in post-Apartheid South Africa, while reflecting upon themes of language and communication, gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity.
    The process of making is fundamental to Hlobo. He utilises techniques such as stitching and weaving, which are traditionally undertaken by women in South Africa. His choice of materials is similarly charged with meaning. The old and punctured inner tubes of car tyres that he gathers from repair shops in Johannesburg are a symbol of industrialisation and the urban experience. For Hlobo, the rubber has particular significance as an emblem of masculinity, not simply because car ownership in South Africa is a masculine status symbol, but also because the inner tubes resemble condoms. Sexual themes are often implicit in his works through his use of phallus and sperm shapes, and forms resembling orifices, umbilical cords and internal organs.
    The satin ribbon that he uses to make his marks on paper, and which literally connects the disparate elements of his sculptures, suggests femininity, domesticity and unification, in contrast to the more ‘masculine’ materials that it binds together. The ribbon, and the way it is used, challenges gender-based assumptions about divisions of labour and introduces a more ambiguous approach to sexuality.
    Hlobo always titles his works in his native tongue, Xhosa, an Nguni language widely spoken in South Africa. Attracted to the formal qualities of the grammar, the sounds of the words, and the linguistic flexibility of Xhosa, Hlobo’s use of the language, with all its poetic idioms, proverbs, and double entendres, is as much about defining himself as it is an effort to convey difficult truths and encourage dialogue around complex social issues.
    This exhibition presents four recent works by Hlobo, which focus on process and communication. Its title, Uhambo,means ‘The Journey’, referring to the physical and mental process of creating these pieces and the passage of the works from one cultural context to another.
    Nicholas Hlobo was born in Cape Town in 1975. He lives and works in Johannesburg.