Celebrated contemporary artist, jazz fundi, raconteur and all-round smooth operator Sam Nhlengethwa opened his new statement show at Goodman Gallery Johannesburg this past weekend, due to run over the festive season.
Nhlengethwa is one of the country’s most celebrated black contemporary artists, with dozens of local and international solo shows to his name, and work in many important collections around the world.
Art Meets Fashion is an exhibition of his new paintings and prints focused, as the title indicates, on the intersection between art and fashion, a long-standing interest of the artist. But with Nhlengethwa interesting and relevant social and political agendas are never far from the surface. Here he turns his attention to providing a platform and a voice for black people with albinism, often stigmatised in their own communities.
While Nhlengethwa’s work is often characterised by insights into everyday urban and working life, this foray into the more glamorised and rarefied fashion world comes from his lifelong fascination with the sartorial — a fascination evident also in his famous series of jazz portraits. Here, the paintings that form the main focus of the exhibition are rendered against the artist’s signature flat colour backgrounds, often used in his collage and painting multimedia works. Each foregrounds a model or fashionista, often painted head on or in classic runway poses.
In terms of colour and compositional approach, the seductions of the fashion scene as an inspiration are clear — dramatic blocks of colour, geometric lines and the consequent emphasis on the fashionable subjects and what they wear are all joyously evident.
“The theme, ‘Art meets Fashion’, is born out of the golden thread of art that permeates the fashion world. I believe that clothing designs and other fashion accessories are inspired by art — whether in colour or style. My interest in this dates back to my teens. I have always been fascinated by people looking trendy. I love shopping around for exclusive pieces of clothing for myself and my family. In this series, I reflect on models in dressing rooms and on the ramp, as well as everyday people looking stylish,” Nhlengethwa said.
The “everyday” part of this equation is portrayed mostly in a quieter series of prints accompanying the main painting show. These smaller character studies are more detailed and more closely observed and form an interesting counterpoint to the grand entrances and runway poses of the paintings.
Cementing the seriousness with which Nhlengethwa takes his subject matter is the design collaboration that is happening in conjunction with the exhibition. The artist is collaborating with SA designer Sonwabile Ndamase, the creator of the iconic “Madiba shirt” worn by former president Nelson Mandela. Under his label Vukani Fashions, Ndamase will showcase a collection related to the paintings.
In addition Nhlengethwa has portrayed many of his ‘models’ for the paintings as people with albinism, something he has found fascinating since childhood. In keeping with his talent for an easy-going type of social activism, Nhlengethwa provided albinism with a platform not only in his own work, but in a collaboration at the opening of the show with model, motivational speaker and inclusion activist, Palesa Mosiea to sensitively unpack the challenges faced by people with albinism.
Art Meets Fashion
Until January 20