06.03 - 17.04.2021
In ‘sewedi sewedi’, Bonolo Kavula confounds the medium of printmaking with works at the intersection of textile and sculptural art. Her creations with multi coloured shweshwe fabrics are stapled, coiled, threaded and painted over. Kavula plays with this fabric – its sentimental and cultural significance – whilst veering away from its intelligible significance to traditional (Sotho-Tswana) ceremony and gatherings. She plays with the neatness of meaning, interrogates the possibilities of scale, surface and materiality.
Bonolo Kavula describes herself as an experimental artist, and an advocate of simplicity and minimalism. At the beginning of her accompanying exhibition video, Kavula opens with the following words and they are repeated throughout the length of the video:
Ke kopa masego le matlhogonolo
I remember you
If only for a moment
You and I will always be
(I want to fall into the sky)
Will you wait for me ?
Tell me about the other side
I want to be there
Have you ever loved someone?
It was important for me to have these words as a basis to this text, as a way to acknowledge the elders that she pays homage to in the exhibition.
The majority of the works are rendered in sheshwe, a printed textile with Germanic roots that has come to represent the cultural identity of the Sotho-Tswana people of Southern Africa. It is worn at weddings, funerals and any other occasion that deserves marking.
However Kavula’s use of the material is evocative of a more personal and sentimental narrative, the memory of her late mother’s red shweshwe dress, an heirloom, is weaved throughout this exhibition. The works are a combination of print, painting and sculpture. Punched pieces of shweshwe are connected by strands of thread, while rolls of shweshwe fabrics are coiled and meticulously arranged. In her exploration of the practice of printmaking, her choice of material is important. Shweshwe is a far cry from her usual material and yet maintain Kavula’s interventionist signature:
I always begin with a material that has a ‘printerly’ characteristic. If I ink something up and can make a print from it, then I can move forward with it.
Kavula lists her influences, from Minimalism to Dada, from Cubism to 60s minimalism and conceptual art. In ’sewedi sewedi’ the presence of minimalism and abstraction is most apparent, particularly in the sculptural threaded works such as Rebaone, 2020 and Tuelo, 2020, works that are delicate and almost translucent in their being.
Kavula’s practice seeks to dance with abstraction as a way to bring unconventional methods and reimagine everyday materials in an exciting and thought-provoking manner. Her work is fond of the simple beauty of ordinary materials and objects. She produces delicate works of art through the use of a myriad of materials that are transformed into detailed works that expand the confines of printmaking.
I am particularly moved by the works that are rendered in shweshwe and thread. Rebaone, Tuelo, and Sewedi all have a delicate, and almost transparent nature, which acts like a veil to world. Through what I deem to be a process of discovery rather than one of creation, she indicates a place where conceptual thinking and tools are used to complexify what is already at her disposal.
The work interrogates memory through its use of material and the metaphorical, that carries the sentimental value of her mother and family’s memory, embedded in her red shweshwe dress. There is also something to be said about her choice to use a punch to create these circles or what I like to think of as memory capsules. The thread then becomes the thing that connects the memory capsule, to create tapestries of her memory universe.
James Young in his work on memory and memorials stipulates that we do not only typically go to an exhibition because of its novelty or because we expect it to singularly teach us something. Instead, it’s the things that we bring with us: respect, a sense of history – often loaded with familial significance and personal conscience, that is omnipresent in our experience of art and much of that resounds with ‘sewedi sewedi’.
Aesthetic issues are typically laden with significance, the aesthetic triumph of ‘sewedi sewedi’, is then achieved through its repeated use and the experience of its foci – the object/material that is the shweswe fabric. The exhibition then becomes the reference point with which we encounter the manifestation of memory (and perhaps beyond it). One hopes that this work will lead us beyond its own materiality to a place and time in which the meaning of absence is pondered upon, as Kavula grapples with the loss of her loved ones.