Themba Shibase at the KZNSA Gallery
by Francesca Verga
Themba Shibase, currently the curator at D.I.T. Art Gallery and pursuing a Master's in Fine Art at the same institution, is showing 'd'urban critique' at the KZNSA. Due in some measure to his use of found board and paper as support surfaces, the work is strong but inconsistently so. The re-used media result in workmanship and presentation of varying quality.
Such works are hung with bulldog clips, giving the impression that one is entering the artist's workspace, a technique that seems to have found much favour in the gallery world of late. But, alongside other well-framed works these come across as less finished. It is important to add though, that for Shibase, the choice to re-use found surfaces imbues his work with a temporal aspect.
Content-wise, Shibase interrogates the notion of black identity in an urban South African context. The repeated use of the image of the goat and traditional cultural elements such as the ukhamba grounds Shibase's work in a particularly African context. The notion of identity, especially in an urban context, allows Shibase to explore his role as an educated, urban black male, whilst keeping in mind his ancestral heritage. For Shibase the role of the urban African male is underpinned by cultural rituals and 'secrets' associated therewith. The practicality and practise of slaughtering goats in traditional culture, for example, does not speak of an urban context. However, Shibase feels that these kinds of traditional rituals cannot simply be ignored, as they form part of one's heritage and upbringing.
Another recurrent feature in the work is the presence of masks, either covering the mouth or the eyes of figures. This further explores the role of what is acceptable in an urban context, what should and should not be explored. Voice depicts a male figure in the foreground with typical associations of urban development in the background (a pylon and a bus as a mode of transport.) The figure has the words 'Listen to me' scrawled across his forehead, almost like an outcry for acknowledgement and acceptance into society, providing a voice for the voiceless, as it were.
Offering delves into the apartheid Dom pass legislation and the spaces to which access was controlled. The work depicts a faceless silhouette of a man, holding a brief case, with the question '...and your identity document, Sir?' inscribed across his figure. The black figure has only his brain, heart and genitals marked out.
While the work offered clear insight into Shibase's exploration of his black identity, some of it was not necessarily exhibition material. Shibase's exploration and questioning of his urban identity remains unresolved, but this exhibition provides a public space for engagement with these issues.
Opened: October 25
Closes: November 13
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