Daniel Boshomane, Baba Jakhe and Gabi Ngcobo at Greatmore Studios
by Paul Edmunds
Exhibitions which result from residencies are always interesting in that one can see how an artist responds to new circumstances while at the same time retaining something of how they normally work. Unfortunately I am unfamiliar with the previous work of any of Greatmore Studios' current exhibitors who have come to the end of a three-month residency. Daniel Boshomane is a painter and multi-media artist from Soweto, Gabi Ngcobo a painter from Durban, and Baba Jakhe a sculptor and installation artist from Rockston Studio in Zambia. Their show is collectively called 'Journals', with each artist's part titled 'Transformations', 'Confrontations' and 'Lamentations' respectively.
The shows purport to reflect the trio's experiences of Cape Town. Without knowing their previous work and without any overt images of the city or its inhabitants, this is perhaps difficult to gauge. But each has produced a body of work which shows enough consistency for the viewer to discern a measure of their usual concerns. Boshomane not only works in many media, but also feels free to engage with different modes of image-making. From a fairly traditional woodcut depicting labourers jumping from a laden truck, to the naturalistic black and white oil painting of a young Mandela in traditional dress, he works with a fair degree of agility. Transformations is a brightly hued rendering of two young men, arms around one another as they walk off into the distance, partially silhouetted by a saturated sunset sky. The transformation of the title, together with the style of dress of the two, suggests to me that these are two youngsters engaged in the ritual Xhosa initiation. Towards the end of the year, this is not an uncommon sight on the outskirts of the city.
An installation in another room is accompanied by a text which tells of township life in Kliptown before forced removals. Camraderie, drinking and shared hardship lent a sense of community to this shantytown, and Boshomane claims that the ubiquity of shacks in South Africa is to some extent due to these former times when multicultural societies flourished of their own accord. A shack wall with crude lettering has litter and detritus shored up against it. Washing hangs nearby and although there are no people there, the sense of their presence is almost tangible.
Gabi Ngcobo's paintings entitled 'Confrontations' do just that. Suspended on flimsy bamboo frames, large faces fill the formats of each painting. Luridly coloured and roughly finished, the faces are marked in such a way as to suggest wooden carvings or masks, and many features are described by radiating lines and hard edges. Universal symbols like spirals and parallel lines confirm that these are not portraits but more likely archetypal figures. Their confrontational nature is emphasised by their liberation from the wall as a support and the way in which they consequently occupy the same space as we do. For me though, the smaller works in the previous room, many of which seem to have served as studies for the larger paintings, are more successful. Their surfaces are handled more sensitively, the drawing tighter, and the presence of one which is clearly a portrait lend them an ambiguity which I find confrontational in a more challenging way.
Baba Jakhe's 'Lamentations' stands apart from the others' work in that it is visually a lot quieter. In a clean, unlit room off the courtyard of the studios it does its work by stealth rather than confrontation. Hanging to the floor, from a circle described by a light fitting on the ceiling, is a shroud-like construction entitled Rituals. Jakhe has carefully and methodically wound and bound small strips of pink and black inner tubes onto wires which descend from the ceiling. The forms he has achieved suggest a secret vocabulary and the work's light, insubstantial form seems to allude to a private interaction in the space it contains. Ritual is depicted as both a closely guarded tradition and a public affair. Relief is also an evocative construction, most of which hangs on the wall, a small part still standing on the floor below. Tiny rubber and perspex shapes are placed on white boards, held together by a wooden construction. Lines which suggest topography and traditional art forms sit alongside more conventional depictions of faces. Jakhe's touch is light and the greater part of the format is left untouched in this collection of images which invites a viewer to thread them together.
Opening: Friday September 21 at 5.30pm
Closing: October 5
Greatmore Studios, 47 Greatmore Street, Woodstock
Tel: (021) 447 9699