The anxieties of this “new normal” are unpacked by artists and curator, Musa Nxumalo, in his “A Cloud” exhibition at Gallery 2 in Rosebank, Johannesburg. Emerging, mid-career and established artists reflect on Covid-19-lockdowns, the data-smothered news reports and social distancing, through their work. What emerges is literal and figurative expressions of the year, that are universally relatable.
Nxumalo, tired of online exhibitions and swiping through artworks on his electronic devices, conceptualised “A Cloud” as a physical rendering of the memories, emotions, experiences and lives stored on our devices. As a society in the 21st century, we access our work, recreation and everything in between from our laptops and phones and often this amalgamates in our Cloud storage — all our experiences condensed into saved data.
“A Cloud” reconceptualises this “data-gathering’ into artistic expression, filling up the white vacuum of Gallery 2 with the artist’s abstract, heartfelt or literal manifestations of their experiences. The variety of human circumstance and ordeals means that some of the work reflects the virus and restrictions placed on us, while others represent something else entirely; leaving the exhibit to flourish in the audience’s projections and predispositions rather than being locked into a framework.
The artists were chosen in a holistic and humble manner: the curator, guided by curiosity and understanding, sought out friends, inspirations and role models. You can see by the collection of artworks and variety of portrayals, the intimacy and friendship between curator and artist, and especially artist and audience. Nxumalo has very much unlocked a group-consciousness that speaks, a voice that has been craving expression. “A Cloud” feels invasively intimate, maddeningly personal, but also distanced; just like the new normal.
Mfundo Mthiyane, a long-time collaborator with, and a part of, Studio Nxumalo, has two paintings at the exhibit. His artworks represent his experiences with being socially distanced, eating app-delivered fast-food and coming to terms with his physical, psychological, social and bodily health.
Inspired by the contradictions and juxtapositions of surrealism, “I’m hating it” and “Social Distancing” become emotive displays of coping mechanisms and anxieties. “Social Distancing” represents the intimacy and personality of the times, two people sitting away from each other with a Rothko-esque binary of colour framing them, the relatable subject matter, coupled with the thoughtful details and personality of the subjects, draws the audience in, yet they are also as distanced as the two people.
Studio Nxumalo has become renowned for its curation, which emphasises collaboration and conversation over fitting in to definitions and binaries, Gallery 2, with its various repertoires of work and reputation of artistic diversity, represented the same ideology as that of the Studio and was the perfect choice for this exhibit.
The artists featured are Mfundo Mthiyane, Teresa Firmino, Abongile Sidzumo, Asanda Kupa, Nyakallo Maleke, Malebona Maphutse, MJ Turpin, Zwelethu Machepha, Kaelik Dullaart, Thonton Kabeya, Ayanda Mabulu, Lerato Lodi, Turiya Magadlela, Olwethu De Vos and Madikotsi Khumalo
• “Cloud” at Gallery 2, Jan Smuts Avenue, Rosebank/Parkwood, runs until August 24.