Archive: Issue No. 51, November 2001

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Isaac Khanyile

Khuluma Nkosi Ngilalele (Lord Speak Unto Me I Am Listening)
Red clay, recycled paper, beads, wood

Isaac Khanyile

The Trolley
Supermarket trolley with ilala palm, incema grass and beads

Isaac Khanyile

'We Are Not Alone' series No 6
Wood, clay, recycled paper and acrylic

Isaac Khanyile

'Ubuntu' series No 3
Beadwork, buffalo teeth, skin and mixed media

Isaac Khanyile

'Ubuntu' series No 3 (detail)
Beadwork, buffalo teeth, skin and mixed media

Isaac Khanyile

'Ceremony' series Nos 3 and 4
Acrylic on dyed canvas
2m x 1m

Isaac Khanyile

'Ceremony' series Nos 5 and 6
Acrylic on dyed canvas
2m x 1m

Isaac Khanyile

Wathint' abafazi wathint' imbokodo (You can't touch the women)
Ilala palm, beads, clay
In total over 130 pillars all approximately two metres high - project in process since 1999

Isaac Khanyile

Wathint' abafazi wathint' imbokodo (detail)

Isaac Khanyile

'African Queen' series No 9
Ceramic, beads and porcupine quills
Height 195cm

Isaac Khanyile

Portrait of the artist surrounded by elements from Wathint' abafazi wathint'imbokodo

Isaac Khanyile

Traditional South American herbs, beads, wood, mixed media

Isaac Khanyile

Isangoma (The Diviner)
Grass mat, ceramic beer pots, horns, feathers, ilala palm, beads

Isaac Nkosinathi Khanyile
by Virginia MacKenny (November, 2001)

Isaac Nkosinathi Khanyile, Volkskas Atelier Award winner in 1996, a nominee for the FNB Vita Art Prize in 1999 and the recent recipient of a coveted Commonwealth Art and Craft Award, has also begun to develop an international profile for himself. Exhibiting in France, Germany, Australia, Holland and the US, he remains faithful to his roots, preferring to reside in the Umlazi township of Durban.


Khanyile comes from a long line of diviners, including his great grandfather, his grandmother and his mother. He was born with a "veil", the sac of the placenta covering his face - a sign in both Zulu and Afrikaner folklore that the child will be endowed with special powers of insight and intuition. Thrust thus into the world of healers and sangomas, Khanyile did not easily embrace the tradition he inherited. A sickly child who contracted polio (he still walks with a limp), he learnt early the distancing position of difference. Standing outside the activities of normal, healthy children, he learnt to observe, an attribute that equipped him well for later life and possibly allowed him to deal with the injunctions he often hears within his head that instruct and guide him in his daily life and his artmaking.

Many of his works are inspired by dreams, the language through which the ancestors usually communicate and which often utilises ancient symbols and hieroglyphics. His work The Trolley (1998), a supermarket trolley embellished with ilala palm, incema grass and red and white beadwork (symbolising initiation), was inspired by a dream in which his grandmother approached him in a crowd with a trolley inside which was a beaded bag. In the healer's tradition beads are seen as medicine, often buried as a thank you, or placed under the tongue to revitalise, their colours open to many interpretations. In this context the red and white beads symbolically locate the bag as belonging to a diviner and Khanyile interprets this dream as initiating him and bequeathing to him the tradition of his ancestors. The shamanic possibilities within an artist's ambit are thus open terrain for him to explore and often lead him to tackle a range of issues concerning his African heritage.

Khanyile's work is tactile, often texturally rich and labour intensive. Utilising traditional African techniques such as pit firing and weaving, he often employs women from the community to help with the execution of projects - a habit that has led to criticism being directed at him as he occupies a privileged position in such a situation, one that is seen by outsiders as perpetuating a patriarchal hierarchy. Khanyile himself claims a great respect for women, pointing to a constantly expanding piece entitled Wathint' abafazi wathint' imbokodo (loosely translated as "You can't touch the women"). In it he sees women as powerful within the African tradition (if you are cursed by a woman the resulting wound can be particularly difficult to heal) and the piece works to recognise that power. The simple woven forms that cluster in and occupy the gallery space, like strangely animate creatures, embody both male and female principles; the phallic form crowned by a shape evocative of the women's isicholo or headdress speaks of a working interdependency between the sexes. The column that is so visually central to the work represents the backbone or central pillar of a Zulu hut. Traditionally heavily beaded, Cetawayo's hut was said to have 12 such pillars and as such the columns embody the very support structure of Zulu heritage.


"I am what I am and I am what I was and ought to be. As an artist I see myself as part of the community from which I come. It is my community that connects me with my past, my present and my future. Without this my existence would carry no meaning. This is what gives me identity and feeds my soul, this what allows me to realise myself as a being.

"Much of my work stems from my dreams - a continuous dialogue with my inner self. It is this that gives me the energy to continue to create. My work links me with myself and also allows me to touch all other human beings around me - those that I see and have seen and even those that I haven't but will in the future. My work has an element of foretelling within it, it becomes a vehicle that continuously heals the self and others. In my dreams I leap up and fly to places I have never been and see many faces and hear many voices. My art provides me with the possibility to bring forth all such experiences. My art creates the possibility of sharing such stories. Thus everyone else outside my inner self can be touched and moved by the creative energies that come from within my soul."


Currently finishing the theoretical component of his Masters at Technikon Natal while teaching sculpture, drawing and ceramics in the foundation and first-year courses, Khanyile is also at work on a development project near Ulundi in the valley of Emakhosini, burial place of the Zulu kings. The project is intended to stimulate growth and empower the local population by encouraging a cultural focus for tourists in the area. Working with bronze casters Kim Goodwin and Peter Hall, the project comprises a monumental bronze beer pot or imbenge over three metres in height as its central focus. An emblem of the union of physical and spiritual powers, the pot embodies Khanyile's belief in his personal link to his ancestors as well as being a celebration of traditional Zulu culture. The construction of the pot will in itself engage the knowledge of local women as they will also be involved in weaving sections of the sculpture.

In 2000 Khanyile spent time in Holland as part of the exchange project 'Holland South Africa Line', which produced an exhibition in Amsterdam and a follow-up show in the William Fehr gallery at the Cape Town Castle. Concerned with the role of traditional healers, he produced two works that took his concerns out of the local and into a global context. In Healers he mixed religious beliefs as well as media to produce a work packaged as a kind of travelling shrine to different faiths. African beads, South American traditional herbs and incense combined easily with images such as the cross of Christianity. In number three of the Ubuntu series (started in 1999), he created a travelling altarpiece of beadwork, skin, water buffalo teeth and acrylic. Guided by the refrain of ubuntu, he tackles that complex and, for the Western viewer, somewhat alien world whereby one's personal identity, even one's humanity, is predicated upon the relationship one has with the community around one. Finding himself operating between cultures - trained in the self-individuating tradition of the West while serving a community where individual identity is subsumed for the greater good, Khanyile has often felt pulled apart by the opposing demands of the two worlds. However, gradually, he has seen the two come together in sacred and meditative pieces that bring ancient traditions to the viewer's attention while serving current concerns.

Being the recipient of the lucrative Commonwealth Art and Craft Award (1999) enabled Khanyile to travel to Australia teaching and exhibiting. He was also able to network, finding himself working in liaison with the Perth International Arts Festival Project (2001) facilitating a group of township youths from Umlazi to make the trip to Australia on a cross-cultural exchange. Prior to that his links with the Antipodes were reinforced in the Australia/South Africa collaborative project on Robben Island. As winner of the 1996 Volkskas Atelier Award he found himself a recipient of six months at the Cité International des Arts in Paris in 1997. Working in the studio there he took advantage of his stay to exhibit at the 'Exposition Collective' as well as have a two-person show at the Cité and showed with a group of international artists at the Art et Empreintes Gallerie. It was this kind of interaction that showed him the possibilities of international engagement.

A teacher before he trained as an artist at Technikon Natal, Khanyile believes his work needs to serve his community. Much of his work is directly involved with community upliftment and education. Playing host to artists whom he has met on his travels, he is often involved in projects with overseas links. Working with Karen Gilc from Holland, he is engaged in plans to build a community arts school in the Valley of a Thousand Hills just outside Durban. Seeing his job as an artist as more than just the production of objects and images, he engages on as many levels as he can with those around him.

Isaac Nkosinathi Khanyile matriculated at Ekwazini High School in 1987. From there he went on to gain a Senior Teacher's Diploma at Esikhawini College of Education in 1992 before he enrolled at Technikon Natal where he gained his National Diploma in Fine Art in 1995. In 1996 he received his B.Tech Degree in Fine Arts at the same institution where he now teaches Sculpture, Ceramics and Drawing at Foundation and First Year level while completing his Masters.

Commissioned to build the Emakhosini (The Valley of Kings) Heritage monument
Judge in the Beach Front Heritage exhibition, Durban
Lecturer, Department of Fine Art, Technikon Natal
Manager of Durban Township Boys - Perth International Arts Festival Project
Judge of the FNB Vita Awards competition
Part-time teaching at Midland College, Tafe, Edith Cowan University and Western Australian University, Western Australia
Judge for the National Creative Youth Festival, Visual Arts exhibition, Technikon Natal Art Gallery
Established the African Arts, Craft and Heritage Organisation to build an Arts and Culture Institution at Isithumba, KwaZulu Natal
Artist-in-residence at Durban Art Gallery
Graduate Assistant, Technikon Natal Fine Arts Department, Durban
Participator in Robben Island Project - a cultural exchange project between South Africa and Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia
Guest Speaker at Ekuthuleni "Place of Peace", 1998 Art and Technology Students Exhibition, Edgewood College of Education, Durban
Initiated and ran Art and Design Teaching workshops for rural black women crafters (Self-motivated project)
Teaching art classes for the African Art Centre through Bat Centre and Technikon Natal
Participating in Wood Carving workshop, Technikon Natal
Participating in mural painting for promotion of peace in South Africa (In collaboration with student from University of Natal)
Conducted art classes at Amawele Orphanage school, Umlazi, Durban
Permanent teaching post at Ikaheng-Zakheni High School (OFS)
Temporary teaching post at Dloko Secondary School, Durban

Solo Exhibitions
'Sands to Stones', Midland TAFE, Western Australia
'Dreams and Visions', Moores Building Fremantle, Western Australia
'Amasiko Ma-Afrika Amasiko Exhibition', Civic Gallery, Johannesburg
'African Roots', Commonwealth Conference Centre, Durban
'Initiative des Farmers Africaners de France et d'Europe' South African Embassy, Bonn Germany
'Ubumina' (Self image) Community Art Gallery, Arciel, France
'Ubumina' (Self image), Cite International des Art Gallery, Paris
'Amasiko ma-Afrika Amasiko', Technikon Natal Art Gallery, Durban

Group Exhibitions
'Ezamandulo - Heritage Exhibition', Durban Art Gallery, Durban
2000 - 2001:
Holland South Africa Line, Bagagehal loods Gallery, Den Haag, Amsterdam; William Fehr Collection Gallery, Cape Town
'Jabulisa' (provincial touring exhibition; Tatham Gallery, Pietermaritzburg, Durban Art Gallery, Durban
'Transmigrations', Los Angelos, California and Mexico
ABSA Bank Atelier Award, Johannesburg
'Australia/South Africa Collaboration', National Gallery, Cape Town
'South African Contemporary Artist Exhibition', Open Window Art Gallery, Pretoria
FNB Vita Awards, Sandton Art Gallery, Johannesburg
'South Africa', Dresdner Bank, Lubeck, Germany
'International Artists', Art et Empreintes Gallery, Paris
'Exposition Collective' (1997), Cite International des Arts, Paris
Two person exhibition, Cite International des Arts, Paris
PGSI Collection Exhibition, Newtown Gallery, Johannesburg
'Africa Week', Holiday Inn International Hotel, Paris
Volksas Atelier Award, Pretoria Art Museum, Pretoria

Winner of 'Our Heritage Image' Award (Fine Art and Culture Development Co-operative), Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal
Commonwealth Art and Craft Award
Nominee for the Vita FNB Award
First Prize - Volkskas Atelier Award


University of Western Australia (African Studies Centre)
Durban Art Gallery
University of Natal, Durban (Leadership Centre)
Billiton Gencor Collection
South African Embassy, Paris
South African Embassy Bonn, Germany
Ambassador's Residence, Bonn, Germany
Cite International des Arts, Paris, France
Carnegie Art Gallery, Newcastle
Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg


Alan Alborough
(July 2000)
Jane Alexander
(July 1999)
Siemon Allen
(June 2001)
Willie Bester
(Aug 1999)
Willem Boshoff
(Aug 2001)
Andries Botha
(April 2000)
Kevin Brand
(June 1998)
Candice Breitz
(Oct 1998)
Lisa Brice
(Jan 1999)
Pitso Chinzima
(Oct 2001)
Steven Cohen
(May 1998)
Linda Givon
(Dec 1999)
Brad Hammond
(Jan 2001)
Randolph Hartzenberg
(Aug 1998)
Kay Hassan
(Oct 2000)
Stephen Hobbs
(Dec 1998)
Robert Hodgins
(June 2000)
William Kentridge
(May 1999)
Dorothee Kreutzfeld
(Jan 2000)
Terry Kurgan
(Aug 2000)
Moshekwa Langa
(Feb 1999)
Mandla Mabila
(Sept 2001)
Veronique Malherbe
(June 1999)
Mustafa Maluka
(July 1998)
Senzeni Marasela
(Feb 2000)
Zwelethu Mthethwa
(April 1999)
Thomas Mulcaire
(April 2001)
Brett Murray
(Sept 1998)
Karel Nel
(Oct 1999)
Walter Oltmann
(July 2001)
Tracy Payne
(Mar 1998)
Peet Pienaar
(Dec 2000)
Jo Ractliffe
(Mar 1999)
Robin Rhode
(Nov 1999)
Tracey Rose
(Mar 2001)
Claudette Schreuders
(Sept 2000)
Berni Searle
(May 2000)
Usha Seejarim
(May 2001)
Penny Siopis
(Sept 1999)
Greg Streak
(Feb 2001)
Clive van den Berg
(Nov 1998)
Hentie van der Merwe
(Mar 2000)
Minnette Vári
(Feb 1998)
Jeremy Wafer
(Nov 2000)