Everard Read / CIRCA, Cape Town
07.02 – 28.02.2018
‘Preoccupations’ is a word which arises repeatedly in descriptions of Blessing Ngobeni’s work and throughout the gallery text accompanying his exhibitions. In ‘Enemy of Foe’ – the artist’s latest exhibition at CIRCA Cape Town – Ngobeni’s preoccupation take the form of a diligent study of political societal decay. A proper viewing of this body of work reflects a near textbook-like study, not just of one particular political structure, but a collection of flawed political strategies; a survey of past and present structures which are presented to us as detailed cross-section diagrams.
This scrutiny gets going straight from the Vinyl Text. ‘Enemy of Foe’ has a correlation with the expression ‘An Enemy of my enemy is my friend’. Through the use of this simple phrase our minds race to recall soured relations caused by succession battles for the South African presidency and similar happenings around the position of Cape Town mayor.
The insistence of these themes manifested, almost as a validation of this work, in the January Eskom Commission of Inquiry sessions. In his criticism of Anoj Singh, the now resigned Eskom CFO, Ex-Reserve Bank Governor Pravin Gordhan said: “…What we see in these institutions is the act of collaboration in sabotage…”
Within the line-work of pieces like The Cat and the Corrupted, it feels as if Ngobeni portrays these exact collaborative misdeeds and interactions of groups of people who prop up despots for their own gain – affirming that corruption of power is seldom the work of a lone actor. There is a gathering of all this data into shapes and forms and therein lies Ngobeni’s interrogation of structure. He uses his paintbrush on well-worked surfaces to render the anatomy of structures which serve to perpetuate sufferings such as those in Ngongoma Ya vusiwa (the bruise of not have).
In other bodies of irregular and amoeba-shaped figures, Ngobeni details many more vices.
When we ‘witness’ acts of corruption in the media our reaction is often to question, “What would make a person do such a horrible thing?” In Ngobeni’s work, the combination of elements such as male members (dangling and erect), scenes of intimacy and motifs of money seek to further magnify the motivations and fleshly desires that form the makeup of a corrupt society. There are no crystal clear answers but the paintings do serve as sort of thesis, backed by the research of observation. The amusingly titled Corruption! The Little I Know serves as protection from academic backlash that these views are not “real knowledge”.
Stepping back and taking in the entire exhibition one could reminisce that the criticisms invoke Manfred Zylla’s 120 Days of Sodom works. The paintings in ‘Enemy of Foe’ show numerous definitive scenes which characterize our motivations. Ngobeni has magnified these moments in frames similar to the screens used by Zylla. In Zylla’s vivid gouache drawings we see the use of the frames which imply television screens displaying the current affairs of the time – The commercial interests of mining bosses protected by governments, sexual depravity, organized religion urging followers to war and rampant consumption. Ngobeni makes use of similar imagery, themes and vignette to create the composition of what drives us: our societal cellular makeup.
As with Zylla – Blessing’s paintings echo Pier Passolini’s statement about power from his interview with Gideon Bachmann in 1975, “…This power manipulates human bodies in the most terrible way, transforming their consciences and instituting new, alienating and fake values…”
In previous reviews of Ngobeni’s paintings the word contorted is used to describe his humanoid figures. It’s not hard to imagine that he is implying that the archetypes in his painting are spineless. It’s also not hard to find recent events which validate his content. In the aforementioned Eskom Commission of Inquiry evidence leader Ntuthuzelo Vanara accuses Anoj Singh of having “bent over backwards”.
… A task which is made so much easier when one is without a backbone.
In the current political climate of colliding views, infighting and identity crises we are our own worst enemy. Thus, the activisms called for by ‘Enemy of Foe’ are more of the personal sort. Blessing Ngobeni’s canvases beg each viewer to take up the activisms of self-reflection. They urge us to yield and change our individual consumptions, morals and attitudes so that the basis for collective action, and in turn, societal change is strengthened.