South African visual artist Nicholas Hlobo creates large sculptural works that are expansive masses which at once feel oozey, voluptuous and highly structured. The contrast of femininity and masculinity is created by his use of dissimilar materials such as rubber inner tubes, ribbon, organza, lace and found objects.
Hlobo has accumulated an impressive portfolio since graduating from Wits Technikon in 2002. Born in Cape Town in 1975, he is now based in Johannesburg and is represented by Michael Stevenson Gallery.
“Through my works I attempt to create conversations that explore certain issues within my culture as a South African,” says Hlobo of his work in his Artist Statement. “The conversations become a way of questioning people’s perceptions around issues of masculinity, gender, race and ethnicity.”
Hlobo draws on his Xhosa heritage in his work, using the language to title each of his pieces and exhibitions and draws inspiration from his own relationship to the culture (other notable Xhosa men include Nelson Mandela).
Currently, Hlobo’s work can be seen as part of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Art 2009 Touring Exhibition showing in six locations across South Africa, including Grahamstown, Port Elizabeth, Durban, Bloemfontein, Johannesburg and Cape Town.
Umtshotsho, as the newest sculptural installation is known, is a term referring to a traditional party for young people, and the exhibition looks at the rituals accompanying the transition from youth to adulthood in Xhosa culture. Unlike previous exhibitions, Umtshotsho is bathed in a faint pink light. Michael Stevenson Gallery, in its review of the work describes this newest exhibition as such:
“In a darkened room the central installation, Izithunzi (meaning ‘shadows’), comprises a gathering of eight figures resembling jellyfish, pumpkins or ghosts. Some are freestanding, others suspended or seated on a sofa. Constructed primarily from rubber inner tubing, the figures are individuated with details of lace, organza and ribbons – Hlobo’s signature materials. Casting a red glow on the group – and perhaps a playful warning – a table lamp is reupholstered with rubber and titled Kubomvu – ‘beware’.”
In 2006 Hlobo was awarded the Tollman Award, given each year to an exceptionally promising young artist. ArtThrob , South Africa’s leading contemporary visual arts publication, reported Hlobo saying that “Winning the Tollman Award has been the most significant moment in my career. It made me realise the importance of my being an artist in this country – suddenly someone celebrated my contribution into the South African culture.”
Judging from his prolific creative mind and the ways he expresses his relationship to his heritage and culture it’s no doubt that Hlobo’s work will continue to be celebrated as significant stories of South African culture.