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Fantastic Ride to Gwadana

Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg

21 November 2020 - 22 January 2021

Stevenson is pleased to present The Fantastic Ride to Gwadana by Simphiwe Ndzube. For his first solo show in Johannesburg, Ndzube exhibits large-scale magic-realist paintings that engage with indigenous belief systems around witchcraft and the idiosyncrasies of otherness. He writes:


I’m interested in witchcraft as it relates to explorations and adventures into the fantastical and the imaginary world; its connection to magical realism and the postcolonial experience of people; the relationship between traditional values and western modernity; and the boundaries between the thinkable and unthinkable, the visible and the invisible.


In many parts of South Africa and other developing countries, there is a belief that illness and other bad occurrences are related to witchcraft. This is predominant in rural areas where poverty leads to strained social relations. Attempts are made by individuals, families and communities to explain what appears to be unusual. This has given rise to the violent persecution of elderly women who are identified as witches.


Gwadana references a place in the Eastern Cape that has come to be known as the mecca of witches. The stigma associated with the space has resulted in secrecy and dissociation with Gwadana by those who grew up there. This folkloric version of Gwadana acts as a portal for me to enter into the concept of fantasy and the way that it plays out in daily life.


In being labelled an affiliate of witchcraft, one becomes other. To be other is to be vulnerable, rejected and scorned by society. The Mine Moon characters in this exhibition celebrate their own oddities and vulnerabilities, depicting the fictionalized Gwadana as a type of utopia wherein the societally persecuted are finally celebrated as equals. These characters are beautiful outcasts exposing the irrationality within supposedly rational post-apartheid societal structures that can turn the already underserved against each other, distracting them as a method of maintaining order.


Ndzube’s figures, appearing simultaneously masculine and feminine in their grotesque revelries, convey a setting wherein the sexes might have a chance to transcend traditional, divided gender roles. The neon cloudscapes of previous bodies of work are replaced with fluorescent mountains and vegetation flanked by corrugated iron, as the artist offers a terrestrial perspective of the Mine Moon anchored in the economically deprived portions of South Africa where ideas about Gwadana and witchcraft have often arisen.


The Fantastic Ride to Gwadana includes a soundscape created by the artist in collaboration with Thabo K Makgolo and Zimbini Makwethu. This experimental work explores acoustic elements evocative of sorcery, witch-hunting and creatures that fly at night. Ndzube describes the work as ‘celebratory, a protest and an outcry against misjudgments of character and ultimate injustice against women, especially the elderly who are often associated with witchcraft’. The piece marks the first interpretation of Ndzube’s work in sound and will be audible throughout the exhibition. With special thanks to and contributions by Elvis Sibeko (Elvis Sibeko Studio), Inganam Batala and Awethu Hleli.

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