By Jasmine Alexander
Inspired both by his own experiences as a gay man and to create an outlet from the politico-economic turmoil that subsumes life in South Africa, Sizwe Sama Sibisi’s latest work in Happy in Hell beckons fearlessness, happiness and love. As his first solo exhibition at Guns & Rain, it is both auto-biographical and a social commentary.
Happy in Hell reflects the joys in life that are oftentimes masked by difficulties. Constantly being told that he would go to hell because his sexuality does not align with the Christian faith, Sizwe decided to find and create his own happiness. Surrounding himself with the things he loves and the people he adores, Sizwe says: “I don’t mind going to hell because I know I’ll be happy there.”
Beginning his self-taught visual arts career as a painter, Sizwe wanted to express himself beyond the conventional. Using the sewing skills his mother taught him when he was younger, he picked up some old clothes and began to sew. Transforming textiles into self-expressions, Sizwe pursued his own mode of art in a fearless fashion. His work therefore encourages others to be brave and try new things.
The concept of love is also embodied in each of the works in Happy in Hell. Love for oneself, love for one another, love for the queer community and love for single mothers. The auras of gay pride and the shapes of pregnant women are prevalent in each piece, a constant reminder to recognise and appreciate these marginalised groups.
Contrasting colours, patterns and textures further reflect the multi-faceted complexities and identities of South Africa. Patchwork figures sewn onto curtain-like drapes express the concealing and covering of one’s true self. Juxtaposing these cloaking materials with vivid colours, however, Sizwe conveys how individuals juggle and perceive the many versions of themselves.
Happiness in Hell is currently on at Guns &Rain Gallery , 72 5th Street, Parkhurst, Johannesburg. Viewing is by appointment. Jasmine Alexander is an intern for Guns& Run Gallery in their UK operations.