CityLife Arts

The evolution of multi-media artist Blessing Ngobeni

His exhibition at Standard Bank Gallery Chaotic Pleasure speaks truth to power

By Edward Tsumele

Multi-media South African artist Blessing Ngobeni’s exhibition has just opened at the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg. This is quite an important exhibition in the career of this artist, and not only because he is one artist who comes from a troubled past -rural upbringing from Limpopo, one of the poorest provinces of South Africa’s nine provinces. This exhibition in many ways sets out to define Ngobeni’s future artistic trajectory and points to his future artistc influence among his generation of contemporary artists in South Africa.

A one-time convicted criminal in his youth for armed robbery for which he served time behind the bars, but also because this exhibition marks a significant growth in his career as he was this year’s Standard Young Artist for visual art. The subject matter that this exhibition deals with is also complex as it deals with corruption that comes with power in contemporary Africa in particular and post colonial Africa in general. In short the subjects he deals with are more complex and the way he interprets the concept of power and its corrupting nature also demonstrates maturity for him as an artist.

Ngobeni’s evolution into a fully-fledged artist with a fondness and boldness of tackling political issues through his paint and paint brush, as well as conceptual installations that also include sophisticated sculptural arrangements, seems to have started in 2016 when he had his first exhibition with Everard Read/Circa Gallery.

Ever since, his use of bold colours to dissect political issues bedeviling the continent seems to be an ongoing process and this seems to have sealed his artistic endeavor now and in the future. Certainly this theme is dealt with explicitly in this current exhibition Chaotic Pleasure, which in essence speaks truth to historical and present-day systems of power and oppression on the African continent.

Chaotic Pleasure, is a much-anticipated body of work that was first exhibited as part of the virtual National Arts Festival and is presented in association with the Everard Read Gallery to which he is signed.  

“This new multimedia exhibition, Chaotic Pleasure, serves as both an observation and a form of confronting complex issues of power and abuse in postcolonial Africa. The paradoxical title of Ngobeni’s exhibition represents a quintessential feature of the artist’s work – his ability to harness and manipulate seemingly incongruous words in order to intrigue, challenge, and inspire the viewer,” say the curators.

“The works in this exhibition are made in response to everything we are seeing in Africa today,” explains Ngobeni. “The chaotic pleasure I talk about is the excitement and hope for a better future, and it’s the protests and the riots that take place when those elected into power fail to deliver. It’s the result of labouring and producing African resources, but never being able to enjoy those resources ourselves.

It’s the beauty of the African landscape and the lingering effects of colonisation. When the coloniser walked into Africa, he did not think about the people living here, he got too excited and simply took over without concern for those people. It’s the pleasure of that excitement and the subsequent chaos it caused, and still causes today.”

Winning the 2020 Standard Bank Young Artist Award for visual art marks a significant moment in Ngobeni’s career. Since his first solo exhibition at Everard Read’s CIRCA gallery in 2016, titled Song of Chicotte, Ngobeni has continued to strengthen his oeuvre by consistently delivering projects that, seemingly effortlessly, present a combination of aesthetic and socio-political critical dialogues.

His artistry across the mediums of collage on canvas, stainless-steel sculptures, and animated videos, as well as his efforts to help train and provide opportunities for young South African artists through the Blessing Ngobeni Art Prize played a significant role in both his nomination and winning of this award.

As Standard Bank Gallery manager Dr. Same Mdluli explains in her introductory text for Ngobeni’s exhibition:“Chaotic Pleasure is a body of work that solidly positions Ngobeni within his own praxis of working with multiple and complex ideas. It is a bold testament and confident display of a sense of ownership of his artistic language. As the winner of the Standard Bank Young Artist award for visual art for the year 2020, this work will remain a marker of an important moment in his career and artistic practice.”

The hosting of this exhibition sees Ngobeni join a long line of trailblazers who have been awarded the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for visual art over the years, including Gabrielle Goliath, Helen Sebidi, Kemang Wa Lehulere, Berni Searle, Tommy Motswai, William Kentridge and more.

. “This is a great opportunity for me to show the world what I do and I’m excited to share these works,” says Ngobeni. “I thank Standard Bank, the National Arts Festival, and Everard Read Gallery for giving me this opportunity, and also for working to make all of this happen on a digital platform.”

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