By Edward Tsumele
Just recently when I heard that there is a group of young artists, all female and their work fresh and some of which possibly could easily be defining the near contemporary, I was interested. Not only because this is August, Women’s Month, but to really see what is on offer. I had a few questions in my mind, and maybe a bit of doubt about the work, and not only because what is often said to be relevant as of now, fresh and defining the future, does not always turn out to be that way on the current contemporary visual art scene in the country. Not all the time, but maybe sometimes, such as in this case.
The current exhibition titled, Labyrinthine, which is currently on at Candice Berman Contemporary at Rand Steam in Richmond, is an exceptional exhibition showcasing an exceptional talent of young, fresh female South African visual art talent that in many ways could easily be described as the new vanguard of visual art.
This talent comprises Amogelang Maepa, Odette Graskie, Nomfundo Mkhize, Natalie de Morney, DuduBloom More, Grace Mokalapa, Mbali Mthethwa and Gina van der Ploeg. Visiting the gallery was akin to a study of what will most probably become a group of female artists that will soon become a very important voice of visual art in South Africa dealing with the issues of the day.
The media they use is varied, the themes are diverse, their backgrounds are what one could call a rudimentary representation of the broader South African society.
Some works deal with issues of race and its dynamics in a diverse society like this one, while some of the works on exhibit deal with issues of patriarchy within a narrow ethnic cultural norm among other interesting themes. One example of that work which deals with a cultural dynamic within a narrow cultural confinement is that of Nomfundo Mkhize.
Mkhize’s body of work, which she created while she was in final year for a fine arts degree at Durban Institute of Technology, delves insightfully into Zulu cultural issues in general, and patriarchy in particular. She uses a symbolism of a traditional Zulu hat won by women, made of clear and synthetic hair that she models by patching it on a head sculpture, representing a traditional woman, obedient and almost unquestioning about the cultural dominance of men in that culture.
For easy access, she has this model photographed and it is these photographic representations of her sculptures that she often exhibits at galleries. These photographs get a viewer to think deeply about the position of women in relation to dominant patriarchal power structures in traditional African societies. For example women, particularly young girls within Zulu cultural norms, as it is in most patriarchal African societies are expected to sit in a certain way, especially in front of men.
“That kind of expectation is problematic because that required position of sitting is informed by the cultural idea of pleasing men. I have a problem with that. Why can I not sit in a way that is me and not informed by expectations of men?,” asks Mkhize who I bumped on at the opening of the show last week Saturday at the gallery at Rand Steam. I had no answer for her.
And she added: “My art is informed by cultural rebellion,” said the young artist.
Mkhize could easily be speaking on behalf of the other artists that were not there when the conversation took place. But their work spoke for itself, as they have the attitude, the bravery and the skill to deal with South African contemporary issues, using diverse media of sculpture, beading, weaving, concepts, painting installations and poetry to articulate the contemporary world they find themselves in contemporary South Africa, including the thorny subjects of race, identity and patriarchy.
These artists are the real voices of female visual representation of the future, and for curator Els Van Mourik to have titled this exhibition Labyrinthine, she is spot on, and perhaps its iteration at the ongoing virtual RMB Turbine Art Fair, entitled The New Vanguard defines these works by this fresh talent more aptly for me.
Those who would like to check out this manifestation of fresh creativity from the young voices of the future at affordable prices can do so by visiting Berman Contemporary gallery in person at Rand Steam by making an appointment prior, due to precautions as applicable to Covid 19 restrictions, or view all the works virtually at Candice Contemporary viewing room at RMB Turbine Art Fair.