Larger than life installations and sculptures by South African performance artist Nicholas Hlobo:

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.

October: Highlighting African Art & African Artists


South African Nicholas Hlobo on Xhosa Culture and Sexuality

By Ben Kersten

Based in Johannesburg, South Africa, Nicholas Hlobo’s sculptural and performative works explore how multiple modes of difference can intersect in a single entity. His natural and scavenged materials drive his creative approach, an emergent process of discovery during which the stiffer materials, such as rubber, form new shapes on their own when manipulated, as if containing life. By experimenting how varied materials can interact in a single work, Hlobo forces them to live side-by-side, just as different identities must coexist within a person, country, or world.

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