Simphiwe Ndzube: Masemola Road
Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town
1 October - 19 November 2022
STEVENSON is pleased to present Masemola Road, a solo exhibition of works by Simphiwe Ndzube, produced over recent months in his new Cape Town studio.
Comprising oil painting, photography and mixed-media sculpture, Masemola Road marks the beginning of a new set of visual concerns in the artist’s practice. The ecstatic, allegorical creations of previous bodies of work are exchanged for portraits and scenes drawn from autobiographical material, including family photo albums and snapshots of friends. Here, Ndzube moves away from the imaginative territory of the Mine Moon, situating his subjects in the environs of the Western and Eastern Cape, translated through his magical realist vernacular.
This shift, he says, is attributable to a more concrete way of working and living between South Africa and the United States, the title being drawn from the place where he grew up in Masiphumelele. He observes:
This body of work is a way of looking in. I’m not working with memory in the same way I did when I was away, when I wanted to see how far some of the things I remembered would take me, where even the faces I created were an amalgamation of imagined people. Now, working with this personal archive, it’s a moment of taking stock, but at the same time it’s universal. These people are familiar to a lot of people. A lot of people will feel as if they are seeing someone they know.
Through his images of aunts, nieces, sisters and grandmothers, Ndzube seeks to celebrate and share the significance of each of these to him and each other. Gentle distortions and vivid colours recur in the paintings, with Ndzube presenting figurative images for their sensory and affective resonance. He explains:
When painting with oils, I had to go back into the canon. I’ve looked at how some of the old masters apply their marks on canvas, from Rembrandt to Sekoto. I’ve been paying attention to mechanisms that are simple but achieve complex visual and sensorial outputs.
Because we as South Africans are still shaping ourselves out of history, painting is still a thing in which we depict ourselves, but we don’t necessarily look at it to feel. Often, we look for representation, not affect. Painting has the ability to transform things beyond what they are. I keep this in mind so that I don’t get stuck in the loop, especially since I’m working from photographs.
Alongside experiments with form and forays into autobiography, Masemola Road foregrounds universal concepts of connection, renewal and the bonds of memory across generations. These concepts are further articulated in a new series of sculptures taking the form of jumpsuits. Created in collaboration with family members and young artists Nzdube grew up with, these hybrid figures unite his fantastical and filial interests. He conceives of this ‘small army’ gesture of acknowledgment for his community, adding: ‘They remind me of amaPantsula from South Africa’s townships, but also, with employment being an issue for a lot of people, I thought about an overall as something like armour, a garment of protection for hard labour and other difficulties.’