SOMETHING COMPLETELY ASTONISHING is currently on show at the University of Johannesburg’s FADA Gallery. Named Ntwananhle and the R2 Boys, this exhibition is only up for another day or two, but it’s a gallery visit you won’t regret. This is Muziwandile Gigaba’s masters exhibition and it serves to present this young ceramicist, draughtsman and printmaker within the context of storytelling that takes oral tradition to new, and intensely relevant heights.
Born in 1984 in the KwaZulu-Natal township of KwaMashu, Gigaba draws from an upbringing that was immersed in the simple narrative values defining rural life. In developing his oeuvre, he ciphons out the purity and magic of stories handed down from grandparent to grandchild. You see this shimmering with directness and sophistication in his work, whichever way you look.
Ntwananhle and the R2 Boys crafts a rich and nuanced tale about ritual and presence, fantasy and poverty. It’s at once resonant with ancient storytelling traditions as it is grippingly contemporary. But you do not need to know the intricacies of the tale in order to sit at the feet of these pieces in awe.
Gigaba’s large scale linocuts, while skilled in the sweeping linework and strong reflection on proportion, anatomy and character they embrace, play second fiddle to his ceramic work. They’re biblical in their reach, but almost too painterly in texture to be unequivocally legible as linocuts.
Also, their presence is compromised. As you walk into the gallery, your eye is caught by the impeccable attention to sculptural detail in the ceramic pieces, and it just does not let go. Ntwananhle I and II are hollow works in the aspect of a sculptural bust. They contain electric lights. By and large, this doesn’t feel necessary – the works are so contained and provocative, so detailed and mysterious, they light up on their own. Gigaba’s use of texture and text he intertwined into the surfaces of the pieces are simply breath-taking.
There’s much more than you can grasp in a first visit to this show – some of these ceramic heads have a slot in them, like a money box. It’s a gesture which offers a sardonic look at the concept of saving money but also comments on the preciousness of work of this nature: use these to insert your coins and when they are full, you have to smash the piece to get at your stash.
There’s a hanging construction of ceramic moths in the second part of the gallery space. This is less engaging because of its several nature: it’s busy and is designed to act like a vignette hanging in front of an installation shot from Nirox sculpture garden in Krugersdorp. It’s a not completely successful, whimsical aside to Gigaba’s Ntwananhle tale that feels a little more literal than the heads.
So, when you look at Gigaba’s ceramic heads, you might think of the ceremonial Epa masks of the Nigerian community of Yoruba. The large, almost pendulous orbs peer back at you with a kind of imperial sense of importance, and the detail and texture on the pieces make you want to never stop caressing them with your eyes.
Also on display are selections of Gigaba’s drawing books, which offer a pointed reflection on the artist’s beautiful line work and wise focuses. Gigaba’s is a name to remember, taking the humble medium of mud to new and extraordinarily dignified levels.
- Ntwananhle and the R2 Boys by Muziwandile Gigaba is at the FADA Gallery, Bunting Road Campus, University of Johannesburg, in Auckland Park, until March 1. 011 559 4555.