Pulane Kingston identifies Lungiswa Gqunta, a member of iQhiya, as an important voice in the new contemporary art market. “She is an innovative thinker whose ideas are realised through coded forms and passion,” Kingston says. “Interestingly, Gqunta’s work is inspired in part by the revolutionary spirit of Winnie Madikizela Mandela.” It is reflective of the history and legacy of apartheid, and, in particular, the role that alcohol played in black families and black life.
Gqunta’s last exhibition in Cape Town, Qwitha, looked at first like a collection of household items on candy-floss-pink walls. “As you draw nearer, you are confronted by the realisation that the clothes line is in fact made of barbed wire — a stark reminder of the violence of apartheid and segregation. Gqunta’s work induces a feeling of discomfort that is powerful,” Kingston says. “In my encounter with her, Lungiswa displayed an infectious zest for life and has an uncompromising, reflective and compelling way of articulating her ideas and art practices.”
Hers is also the voice that Kingston sees exploring the next step of the self-actualisation journey. “She has been through the phase of grappling with issues of the postcolonial cultural landscape as far as inequality and patriarchy are concerned. What she now seems to be exploring is how you find healing through all this resistance and pain,” Kingston says. “I think Gqunta is one of the very few artists who has already begun to understand that for South Africa to become a vibrant democracy where dignity finds true resonance, we need to find healing through the brokenness of who we are.”
One of the leading lights of iQhiya is Bronwyn Katz. Her work has been exhibited to great acclaim in South Africa and internationally. “Her ongoing Palais de Tokyo exhibition in Paris has been a showstopper,” Kingston says.
In her work, Katz employs conceptual strategies in the deconstructing of objects. She strips the elements of wire mattresses in a way that the final work of art reveals the essence of the object: this idea of stripping and deconstructing speaks to her themes of history, memory, traces, and human remains.
“In Katz’s process of deconstructing, my sense is that what she is trying to get at is the essence of things, and particularly to issues of identity—given her background and where she comes from,” Kingston says.
PAMELA PHATSIMO SUNSTRUM
Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum is one of the few painters in this new crop of artists. Her work is figurative and mainly two dimensional. She paints a lot of lines in her work that speak to geometric shapes and mathematical calculations.
“From my perspective, she is talking about reasoning and the reliance on natural forces to bring enlightenment and knowledge to people,” Kingston says. “As my own upbringing was also nomadic in nature, I am drawn to her work as I see references to travel, migration, and the impact of travel on the cultural isolation associated with this. I read this in how she replicates herself in her works.”
Sunstrum is represented by Tiwani Gallery in the UK and Gallery Momo in South Africa. Her work continues to be exhibited extensively, with growing interest and success.
Mary Sibande’s alter ego, Sophie — her depiction of the stereotypical domestic worker in Victorian garb — has global reach. “Every one of us and every one of our families has a Sophie,” Kingston says. “In my family my grandmother was a domestic worker, and through the sheer power of the subconscious mind, faith, a belief in the manifestation of dreams, and a bit of luck, her daughter — my mother — qualified as a medical doctor.”
Kingston says Sophie represents the power of positive thinking, and, despite her obvious limitations, she encourages and inspires others to achieve their goals. Her blackened skin, similar to the tone of Zanele Muholi’s self-portraits, evokes another stereotype, of the sun-blackened slave working in the fields or plantations.
The next step is for Sophie to move into different situations, and to continue embodying the strength of character of every woman.
Zanele Muholi is best known for her portraits that capture the dedication of her work as a visual activist, and which reflect an important dialogue about black lesbian, gay, transgender and intersex people.
“In her series entitled Faces and Phases, there is such an unnerving sensitivity to the way that she depicts the people in her images and captures their emotions,” Kingston says. “These images are classic head-and-shoulders images, and she makes us almost ashamed that we make LGBTQI people abnormal. It turns the mirror on us.”
Kingston says Muholi’s photographs also reference the classic portraiture tradition associated with West African cultural history. “Seydou Keita, one of our continent’s most iconic portraiture photographers, who lived in Bamako, Mali, was well known for this type of photography. This body of Muholi’s work reminds me of that era,” she says.
In her most recent series, entitled Somnyama Ngonyama, Muholi turns the camera on herself, and, for the first time, she is looking straight into the camera defiantly, using a variety of materials and props that suggest various forms of historic and current hardship. “On her head as hair, the steel wool that we use to clean pots talks to the gender role — the constant domesticated work,” Kingston says.
“There is another self-projection where her skin has been darkened using body paint. She is wearing a miner’s hat with goggles. It is a reminder to me of the fact that the women’s struggle has never been recognised in the context of miners,” Kingston says. “There are women who live in rural areas who do not see their husbands for long periods — they rely on their husbands salaries to look after their families; and then there are the women who work on the mines. These women have to contend with challenges on these mines.”
Billie Zangewa is the featured artist at this year’s edition of the Joburg Art Fair, cementing her position as one of the leading visuals artists in the country, with increasing interest from international collectors.
In her unique medium of raw-silk, hand-sewn collages Zangewa depicts those everyday scenes that reflect all of our lives.
“The political angle comes from the fact that Zangewa has demystified that there is any fundamental difference between races. We all want to love and be loved, we all yearn for deep intimacy, and we all engage in mundane everyday tasks — all of which she captures on her collage tapestries,” Kingston says. “Despite all of the sociopolitical challenges that impact our lives on a daily basis, her work is a stark reminder that there remains a semblance of normality that characterises our lives, however abnormal as they may feel at times. I think it’s important to acknowledge this.”
DINEO SESHEE BOPAPE
Installation artist Dineo Seshee Bopape received the 2016 Pinchuk Award for her installation entitled Mabu/Mubu/Mmu, signalling prestigious international recognition for her conceptual work.
“Dineo Seshee Bopape is on a continuous quest of history and pan-African philosophy,” Kingston says. “What is interesting about her work is the materiality of it and the conceptual manner in which she arranges her installations. The Mabu installation also invited me to pause and reflect on the sense of belonging that the dense soil in the installation invokes. This is deeply political work as it speaks to questions of nationhood and identity. Each time I have seen her work, I have been haunted by the land question and how the soil represents traditional fertility iconography, as well as ancient spiritual places. I think this is because of how raw that thickly packed soil looks: how dense, rich, and dark it is,” Kingston says. “It makes me think of what land means to me as a global citizen, an African and a woman, and where I feel most grounded.”
At the Berlin Biennale this year, Dineo Seshee Bopape’s installation, Untitled [Of Occult and Instability] reflects what has been aptly termed as a space for generative violence: the filth and debris, piles of orange bricks, junk towers, abandoned drums, pillars, polyethylene sheets, and a huge orb of cardboard, suspended from the ceiling — all in a vast room lit in a warm orange light. A video of a 1976 Nina Simone song, Feelings, is on slow play on a rickety screen in the background.
“It’s the conceptual approach that makes her work riveting,” Kingston says. “The choice of her materials prompts questions about the essence and meaning of our existence. The work then brings to question the metaphysical and the concrete of this world.”
NomThunzi Mashalaba is one of a few visual artists in this new generation of female artists who are working with paint as a medium. Mashalaba’s work, rendered in delicate colouring and visual layering, represents what Kingston refers to as “the age of self-actualisation”, as her paintings draw on biographical elements, often representing moments from her personal diaries.
Her artistic concerns revolve around ideas of exploring personal stories, thus often visually transferring her diary onto large-scale works. The works allude to story-boarding and sketch-booking, yet are often created in the traditional fine-art media of oil painting and drawing.
“In some of the paintings the colour induces a sense of calm, inviting meditation and reflection. At best, her colour operates as a form of storytelling in the way in which she uses tertiary hues alluding to the complexity of the identity she embodies,” Kingston says. “Even the subtlety and nuances of her brush strokes lend to this idea of reflection and contemplation.”
Mashalaba is a commanding figurative and abstract painter, Kingston says. Her ability to oscillate between the two different yet interrelated forms of artistic expression is what makes this young artist stand out among her peers. It is encouraging for a young woman to be painting at a time when most of her contemporaries are caught up in the fever of performance art, video art, and new technologies.
“As exciting and promising as her work is, from my view it would benefit from an immersion in experimentation with alternative forms of painting and a greater variety of materials,” Kingston says.
- From the September edition of Wanted magazine.