by Sue Williamson (June, 2006)
For a young artist who graduated only in 2002 and has yet to have his
first solo show, Tollman Award winner Nicholas Hlobo has produced an
astonishing body of powerfully realized work in a wide variety of
Different as they may look as one scans down a page of images, wide
ranging as his sources may be, Hlobo's works and performances are
distinguished by an unusual clarity of vision and sensitivity to
materials. Addressing issues of sexual identity, challenging
stereotypes, sometimes wildly exuberant, sometimes cool and
reflective, each piece has been fully resolved in its own way.
Hlobo also has the rare ability to write lucidly and insightfully
about his process and artmaking.
Igqirha Lendlela is both sculpture and performance, and is intended
by the artist to explore the idea of freedom in South Africa.
Writes Hlobo on the piece:'The title is derived from the Xhosa choral
song Igqirha lendlela nguqongqothwane.' This means that the dung
beetle is the doctor of the road. The dung beetles are amazing with
their ability to roll dung using their hind legs - they'd then make
their way to their nests rolling the dung using backward movement.
'To me, this says a lot about the courage and confidence they have.
They are not intimidated by having to move things larger than their
bodies. And, this movement says nothing about having backward
thinking. Instead it presents a lot of intelligence and knowing where
they come from. The song is used to refer to those who are wise and
educated [in various ways] and says that they are the ones who are
enlightened and know the way forward.
'In this performance the song or title of the song is used as a
South Africa, its culture(s), the future and the past. The work
comment on the heavy past that South Africans have to bear with. This is
suggested by altering garments [jackets] in such a way that they have a big
unusual hump that grows or have grown at the back.
'The hump will be added to the garments so that it looks as though it
of the design and at the same time foreign. The altered jackets and the
performance make a conversation on the heavy baggage we carry as South
Africans. What this says is that South Africans have the strength to
forward with ease despite how heavy our past may seem.'
'The character hopes to behave like any normal person would. He'd visit
exhibitions, go to restaurants, window shop, go to libraries, meet
'In this jacket I used rubber from inner tyre tubes because of its
to other works I made. I stitched the pieces together using red
ribbon found its way into becoming a thread because of its smooth
and red colour. The colour also worked as the lining of the jacket is
red. As we all know, red is such a dramatic colour'.
Asked what led to a decision to make a career in art, Hlobo replied
'It started when I was still young in primary school. We never had
art as a subject and I'd be asked to illustrate for my class because
I liked drawing.
'In 1998 I decide to study art so that I could work in the film
industry. During my studies at Technikon Witwatersrand I realised
that as an artist I could still
make a good contribution in the South African culture without having
films and this is where I am now.'
'Through my works I attempt to create conversations that explore certain
issues within my culture as a South African. The conversations become
a way of
questioning people's perceptions around issues of masculinity,
gender, race and
Hlobo is the 2006 winner of the Tollman Award which carries prize
money of R100 000. Donated by the Tollman family, the award is given
each year to an exceptionally promising young artist.
Says Hlobo, 'Winning the Tollman Award has been the most significant
moment in my career. It made me realise the importance of my being an
artist in this country - suddenly someone celebrated my contribution
into the South African culture.'
Earlier this year, Hlobo participated in 'Olvida Quien Soy - Erase me
from who I am', at the Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderno, Las Palmas,
which is where he exhibited and performed Igqirha Lendlela,
amongst other works.
Hlobo first began to come to public notice when he was selected by
curator Tumelo Mosaka as one of his picks for 10 Years 100 Artists
(Bell Roberts Publishing/Struik 2004), and appeared on the Sophie
Perryer curated show at Michael Stevenson Contemporary, 'In the
The artist's first solo show is planned for Michael Stevenson
Contemporary in August. Intente is one of the new works to be
Writing about this show, Hlobo says that the works on this exhibition
will look at, among other things, 'comfort, shelter, protection,
beauty, cleanliness, sacred space, pleasure and fantasy'. He
describes elements of the show as follows:
'We will look at military camps in this country, which signify
protection, destruction and display of power. When in trouble
soldiers would drop their tents to send a signal to their friends
alerting them of an invasion by the enemy.
'This is where the work Intente plays its part. It is inspired by
the idea of a tent as something that gives shelter and is also a
symbol of power and masculinity. Young Xhosa men at times refer to
someone having an erection as umis' iintente, meaning 'he's got his
tents up'. The thought of something pushing from below with great
pressure can be related to the struggle for equal rights by
homosexual men and their female counterparts.
And after that?
'I'll be busy working on the Hotel Room Project at Spier,
Stellenbosch. I am among a group of about ten artists that were
selected to come up with concepts/designs that would give the hotel
rooms a non-conventional creative feel.'
Born Cape Town, 1975. Lives and works in Johannesburg.
2002 B Tech: Fine Arts, Technikon Witwatersrand
1998 Printmaking apprenticeship, Artist Proof Studio, Newtown
Upcoming solo exhibition
2006 Michael Stevenson, Cape Town (16 August - 16 September)
Selected group exhibitions and performances
2006 Women's March commemorative exhibition, Iziko South African
Gallery (June - September)
2006 Olvida Quien Soy - Erase me from who I am, Centro Atlantico
Moderno, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
2006 Performance at Vansa conference, Cape Town
2005 Performance at Sessions Ikapa, Cape Town
2005 South African art 1848 - now, Michael Stevenson,Cape Town
2005 Synergy, Iziko Old Town House Museum, Cape Town
2005 Inventors, makers and movers, Arti et Amicitiae, Amsterdam
2005 In the making: materials and process, Michael Stevenson,
2005 Take me to the river, Pretoria Art Museum, Pretoria
2005 Subject to change, Iziko South African National Gallery,
2005 Klein Karoo National Arts Festival, Oudtshoorn
2005 A Decade of Democracy: Witnessing South Africa, Dallas,
and KZNSA Gallery, Durban
2005 10 Years 100 Artists, Bell-Roberts Gallery, Cape Town
2004 Jo'burg Art City, Johannesburg Development Agency,
2004 Intercession, Johannesburg Art Gallery
2004 Mine(d) Fields, Stadtgalerie, Bern, Switzerland
2004 A Decade of Democracy: Witnessing South Africa,
Center for African American Artists, Boston, Massachusetts
2004 Show Us What You're Made Of II, The Premises Gallery,
2003 Makeshift, Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg
2003 18th Absa L'Atelier Exhibition, Absa Gallery, Johannesburg
2002 Jo'burg Art City, The Fort, Constitution Hill, Johannesburg
2002 17th Absa L'Atelier Exhibition, Absa Gallery, Johannesburg
2000 Arts Alive, Electric Workshop, Johannesburg
2000 Pride Exhibition, The Zone at Rosebank and Windybrow
1998 Artist Proof Studio Exhibition, Cape Town
2006 Tollman Award for Visual Art 2006
2005 Three-month residency at Thami Mnyele Foundation, Amsterdam
Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town;
University of South Africa (Unisa), Pretoria