Nicholas Hlobo - Isithanga (2019)
For DELIRIOUS, the South African artist Nicholas Hlobo (b. 1975) has created an installation of thin and twisting strands winding around two tree trunks. At the end of each strand, there is a round shape, which makes the work as a whole reminiscent of a delicate plant with flowers, which is growing out of the tree. The sculptures are made of copper pipes, a material with which Hlobo recently started experimenting.
Hlobo’s copper sculptures allude to brass instruments and the power of music, but also to tumbleweed, a steppe plant that, once fully grown and dried out, blows away with the wind. The colour and form of the plant resemble Hlobo’s copper sculptures. But above all, the artist sees copper, as a material with highly conductive properties, as a metaphor for connecting different states of being.
Hlobo’s sculptures, performances, installations and reliefs are inspired by post-apartheid South Africa, and specifically by Hlobo’s position within that complex and disrupted society. Behind the works lie stories about the present and about his country’s recent history. Hlobo’s personal experiences as a black gay man from the traditional Xhosa community in the Eastern Cape play an important part in his work. In some black communities in South Africa, homosexuality is sometimes seen as a vile aberration, something that was brought to Africa by white European colonists and which needs to be eradicated.
Hlobo’s works are theatrical, lavish, rich in colours and sumptuous fabrics, extremely tactile and designed to be experienced by walking through them and around them. Colourful, sweet ribbons evoking feelings of softness, harmony and tenderness contrast strongly with the stiff black rubber that appears in many of his works. In a South-African context, the rubber inevitably brings to mind the violent act of ‘necklacing’ – pulling a petrol-filled car tyre down over the chest and arms of those who collaborated with the apartheid government, and then setting it on fire.
Hlobo generally gives his works names in his mother tongue, isiXhosa. Particularly in South Africa, where so many languages have been lost through the actions of the colonial oppressors, African languages are treasured. Because language is inextricably linked to our identity. Isithanga means ‘the colony’. Hlobo has brought new residents to De Oude Warande and leaves aside whether it concerns migrants, exotic plants or alien organisms.