That Nicholas Hlobo opens his solo show at Art Basel Miami Beach this Thursday, is remarkable. Remarkable because it was just over a decade ago that this South African visual artist’s maiden solo opened at Cape Town’s Stevenson Gallery, beginning a journey that has garnered an international fan base, countless awards, residencies and new shows.
Using sculpture, performance art and mixed-media paintings, Hlobo probes his own reality as a post-apartheid artist, reflecting his identity as a gay black man with Xhosa ethnicity.
Weaving, melding, stitching and shaping his works, Hlobo’s oeuvre is labour intensive, deeply personal and serves to open wounds that many would rather not acknowledge. His tools of communication include leather, ribbon, wire and rubber detritus - all materials that lend his pieces a magnetic tactility.
On the eve of his solo exhibition, presented by Lehmann Maupin, we chatted to him about his process, achievements and what to expect of the show.
Although you’ve made regular appearances abroad, this is your first solo show at Art Basel. What meaning does this hold for you? Having my first solo presentation at Art Basel Miami has been educational in terms of how to keep the momentum of my practice going. It represents great personal growth. I see it as the opportunity for fair visitors to have a true reading of my work.
Do you believe audiences of other nationalities digest your art in a different way from African audiences? And does that affect your process? The reading of the work does not stop at the place of creation of the work. People from different places of origin will have different points of view but the work of art stands apart from physical, cultural boundaries. I believe they are read universally.
How have you evolved as an artist since 1998 when you had your first exhibition? My practice has evolved greatly. Lately, I’ve explored my materials with a renewed attempt to discover myself anew, which I think of as evidence of evolution.
What is the process of mining yourself and your history like? It’s a wonderful process that serves as a way of educating myself; it lends a hand in creating my opinion of myself and my country. I feel as if I’m playing a role in how we are redifining ourselves as South African.
In creating work that reflects your lived experience - as an African, a black man, a man and a gay man - do you aim to process and seek answers or rather to share with the viewer? I am sharing my experiences and opinions with the viewer. Earlier in my career, I was asking questions, but it dawned on me that it was not helping at all to ask questions. I grew to understand that it was more important to celebrate all that makes me who I am. I didn’t have to question, but to express what is there already. Questions never lead to answers. I celebrate and share my experiences and opinions.
Tell us about the new work you will be showing at the fair. I will be showing new paintings and sculptures with renewed inspiration to push the idea of sewing further. The copper pipes I’m now working with represent stitching in a different material. I’m stitching with metal. I’m returning to places I’ve been in the past, as well through the use of colour in my sewn materials, which has been absent for a while, and taking further the idea of stitching.
Since your first solo in 2006, your name has been catapulted into art halls of fame. What do you think contributes to the popularity of your work? This is a very hard thing to answer. I think it has been about remaining true to myself, true to my story and true to my process. I am consistent, not looking for fashionable ideas, but telling my story from my heart. I’m not telling anyone else's story; it is mine.
Catch the Nicholas Hlobo solo in the Kabinett section of Art Basel Miami Beach December 6 to 9.