Nicholas Hlobo


As you walk up the steps at the Stevenson entrance, a black globular ‘thing’ sits inconspicuously to the right. Coloured twine and ribbon decorate it. Upon closer inspection, you’ll notice that it winds off into the space, meandering across the floor, innocuously creeping off somewhere. And if you follow this trail of black rubber, sewn together with coloured thread, lumping and bumping irregularly, it will lead you through into the main gallery space, where it mushrooms suddenly in size. A huge black slug-body, Tyaphaka, meanders around the space, expanding into the space, taking it up as it moves. In the back room of the gallery the creature reaches above waist-height, and comes to an abrupt end against the back wall. But the form implies room for greater expansion.

Tyaphaka was first shown at the 2012 Sydney Biennale. The work was half submerged in the harbour, changing with the tides and resembling a beached whale. Describing the interplay between sculpture and site, Hlobo said that this “is a rich metaphor for surrender to the elements over which we have no control”. Relocated to Johannesburg, Typaphaka has shape shifted, surrendering to the Joburg elements; the form meandering along the floor is no longer a fish out of water; it’s an earthworm, crawled up from the mine shafts that burrow below the city.

The works on canvas that accompany the show are pristine and white, in stark contrast to the black re-purposed rubber. Amoeba-like patters have been stitched into the canvas in metallic thread. These end in molten nuclei, or begin from there. The artist’s statement describes these paintings as “the stage where life is being formed, the incubation stage”. There is no control at this stage of life; it’s purely biological, a basic intention towards becoming. In this way the canvases become like visual representations of Tyaphaka’s unborn offspring.

The two components of this show depict different stages of an evolution, where control is in a state of regression and the basic forces of nature are left to their innate drive.

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