Patterns of freedom to channel the universe


COMPLICATED moves: Zibuya Ngokuzolala Uma Zishukana Umqondo, a work in mixed media on canvas by Bambo Sibiya. Photograph courtesy Everard Read Gallery.

AS YOU REACH the top of Circa Gallery’s oval spiral ramp that has become so iconic on Jan Smuts Avenue in Rosebank, and enter this exhibition of works on canvas by Bambo Sibiya, you realise something overwhelming. This is not a simple art show. It is an event. It is a victory. And your being in this space and being able to look at these works is something that gives you a tremendous sense of privilege. These works offer a sense of what the idea of South African art should look like to outsiders all over the world.

The unequivocal quality and presence, the skills and the challenges addressed, undertaken and met in these mixed media works by Sibiya – whose relief prints you might have seen at the Artist Proof Studio’s exhibition in Pretoria recently – have important and lucid voices on so many different levels.

They’re political voices, and you can see the faces of this society’s leadership and history interwoven into their compositions. But they never slip into being didactic or easy. Much more than either of these qualities Sibiya’s oeuvre is about the men and women who comprise our society. They give loud and articulate and vital voice to the humble guys playing chess in the streets.

Sibiya’s draftsmanship is well formed, intricate, articulate and supremely mature. He works with eloquence and fluency in this large format, and he engages with the language of pattern and lace in a way that is not only immensely satisfying, but it plays with preconceived notions gorgeously. It’s like choreography: Sibiya introduces floral and flouncy lace patterns into the texture and presence of a man’s suit, and it shimmers with currency and relevance. The lace is transcended and the beauty holds fast.

There are just ten works in this profoundly powerful exhibition. But they’re ten works which have the potency to redefine what art in South Africa looks like.

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