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Themba Shibase

By Rike Sitas
Morphology of history (Edwine and Solomon I)

Themba Shibase
Morphology of history (Edwine and Solomon I), 2010. Mixed media on paper A3.


KZN-based artist Themba Shibase is known predominantly for his dynamic, experimental painting. Much of his work engages identity politics and, more specifically, explores the complexity of ethnic and racial identities. Working mainly in 2-dimensional media such as painting, drawing and collage, Shibase is concerned with critically unpacking the intersections of race, class and power in Africa. Colonial stereotypes of Africa still abound, and underpin a problematic ongoing quest for ‘authentic Africanness’. Shibase is interested in exposing the colonial gaze that continues to inform racial identities in Africa, and specifically South Africa. According to Shibase, ‘my work is my contribution to the ardently-debated questions of ‘who are we?’, ‘where do we come from?’ and ‘where are we going in relation to the many other people of the world?’.

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Themba Shibase was born in Port Shepstone about 120 km south of Durban. He later moved to Durban where he now lives and works. Apart from his work as an artist Shibase also teaches painting and art theory at the Durban University of Technology (DUT). Themba Shibase was nominated as one of the finalists for the MTN New Contemporaries Award 2008 as well as the Spier Contemporary 2007.


‘Africa has, over the last couple of decades, been located at the centre of Post-colonial discourse. The roots of many of Africa’s ills, whether socio-political or economic in nature, have been attributed to its colonial history. As a result of this phenomenon, the post-colonial African leader’s capacity to effectively ‘lead’ has evidently been viewed from a less critical perspective by his fellow Africans. It is noted that, after all, he was very instrumental in the emancipating of the people of his land from the exploitative rule of the former colonizer; hence, he still holds a heroic position in the eyes of those he rules.

It is this complacent perspective of the so called “Struggle Veteran Leader” that has resulted in many post-colonial African leaders managing to evade solid criticism and condemnation for brute and autocratic leadership, which in some cases can be equated to that of colonial rule itself. My work focuses on a variety of issues centred on identity politics (particularly racial identity) within the context of urbanized environment. Through my work I interrogate the frequently stereotyping and homogenizing notion of authentic African culture which is perpetuated by “colonial gaze”-informed perspectives of Africa and or its people. My work is inspired by my daily life, encounters with city life and related activity. This wide subject matter covers things like, newspaper articles, television, conversations with friends and sometimes fellow Africans from other regions of the continent, to simple things that are found on the streets as evidence or trace of people's occupation of the city’.

Shibase’s recent work has focused on interrogating issues of leadership and current political ideology. Although dealing with very emotive and hard subjects including dictators such as Robert Mugabe and Former Zaire’s Mabutu Sese Seko, his paintings are often laced with humour. Using mostly washes Shibase’s loose painting style suggests a sense of urgency and impatience which is in sync with the urban scenes that are characteristic of his earlier work. In the present body of work Shibase incorporates collage to make scenes that are at once playful and grim.


‘Shibase's work primarily grapples with the question of identity in its various guises. His artistic vision is largely inspired by his appreciation of urban multicultural complexities’ (Real Stories Gallery).

‘The personal inflection of these seemingly political paintings reflects the artist’s attitude of ambivalence and skepticism related to divergent and disparate notions of purist identity.’ (KZNSA Gallery).


Some of Shibase’s recent work is currently being exhibited at the DUT Gallery in a show entitled Harbouring Histories. This exhibition marks the starting point of collaboration between the DUT and its Australian counterpart – Curtin University of Technology. Here Shibase explores the instability of the words history, heritage, culture and identity – words that are often used interchangeably in problematic ways.

Shibase lectures in the Department of Fine Art at DUT. As a result of years of pigeon infestation and general decay, the department’s roof was replaced this year (2010), leaving the academic staff with a 3-month break. During this time, Shibase has read and reflected on his practice, imagining new ideas and approaches to his work. The work that emerged out of this period has been largely informed by the current socio-political context, where the debates about media freedom and responsibility dominate much of public debate. As a result, ‘subverted media images of politicians and other iconic figures are recurring subject matter in these works’.


In 2009 Shibase participated in Us at the Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG), curated by Simon Njami and Bettina Malcomess. Us took a critical look at group identities under rubrics of nation, culture, class, race, gender and sexuality.

Shibase also exhibited a new collection of work in his solo show related to his Masters Degree submission. He has been active within the realm of contemporary art for some time, and this Masters show demonstrated a meeting point of his academic and professional practice in a profound comment on urban cultural hybridity. Working predominantly with collage, Shibase unpacked the complexity of urban notions of traditional identity and practice.


In 2008 Shibase was nominated as one of the MTN New Contemporaries.


Shibase is working towards his fifth major solo exhibition locally and internationally (details to be announced later this year).

The artist firmly believes in contributing not only to contemporary art practice, but also challenging theoretical notions of what it means to produce art in an African context. For this reason, he is busy exploring PhD programs to further his academic endeavours.

Shibase has chosen to remain largely rooted in South Africa, but as part of his PhD process he will also be looking into taking part in relevant international residencies.


2009: Masters in Fine Art, Durban University of Technology, Durban, South Africa
2004: Bachelor Degree in Fine Art, Durban University of Technology, Durban, South Africa

2006 – Current: Lecturer in Fine Art, Durban University of Technology
2009: Part time art teacher at the African Arts Centre
2004 – 2005: Curator, Durban Institute of Technology (now DUT)

Exchange and Residency Programmes
2004: Art for Humanity, Amsterdam, Netherlands
          Caversham Centre for Creative Arts and Writers

2008: Nominated for MTN New Contemporaries
2007: Nominated for Spier Contemporary

Organisational Involvement
2008: Mentor KZNSA Nivea Art Award
2008: Council Member, African Arts Centre
2008: Trustee, Arts for Human Rights Trust
2008: Acquisitions Committee, Durban Art Gallery
2008: Online News Editor, Art for Humanity

Public Collections
Durban Art Gallery
UNISA Art Collection


2009: ‘Hybrid Culture’ DUT Gallery, Durban
2008: ‘Rush Hour’, Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg
2008: ‘Umhlaba Kabani / Whose Land?, Erdmann Contemporary, Cape Town
2005: ‘D’Urban Critique’, KZNSA, Durban


2010: ‘Harbouring Histories’, DUT Gallery, Durban
2008: ‘New Spell’, David Krut, New York
2007: ‘Spier Contemporary 2007, Cape Town
2007: ‘From Here to There’, AVA, Cape Town
2007: Art Seasons: Cape Town, Franschoek Valley
2006: ‘Form and Substance’, Erdmann Conemporary, Cape Town
2006: ‘New Painting’ KZNSA, UNISA Gallery & JAG
2005: ‘Being Here, KZNSA, Durban
2005: ‘SURFACE’, Franchise Gallery, Johannesburg
2005: Red Eye, DAG, Durban
2004: ‘Black’, KZNSA, Durban
2004: ‘Summer Show’, African Arts Centre
2004: ‘The Legacy of Trevor Makhoba’, BAT Centre, Durban
2003: ‘Crimes of Passion’, Bean Bag Bohemia, Durban