Sandile Zulu (1960 - )
‘Spiritual transformation through the caterpillar’, 2004



fire, water and air on canvas, approx 100 x 300cm

signed and dated bottom right and top left ‘Sandile Zulu 2004’ and inscribed with title on reverse

Sandile Zulu works with the elements of fire, water, earth and air in creating his large canvases and installations. In the catalogue accompanying the group exhibition Personal affects: power and poetics in contemporary South African art, hosted by the Museum for African Art in New York in 2004, he describes the personal and historical associations of his distinctive working process:
‘I began using fire in 1990 at a time when the political situation in South Africa was very violent… I was using fire in a way that was “fighting fire with fire”. The state was using fire … there were fires around the country; people were burning things and people were thinking that was part of the revolutionary act. So for me it was a revolutionary suggestion. I was, in fact, advocating it – that it was the right thing to do, because it has to do with … the concept of radical transformation of the revolution … But I think, thereafter, there was growth in my work, and I started to consider the air and “the winds of change”, and I started incorporating the actual wind into my work. I was using wind to blow the flame … There were also other symbolic references within the fire, because fire heals, fire warms us, because fire is a social thing in a sense: it brings us together. And it was important for the fire to bring us together at that point in time so that we could be together in struggle – in the fight for liberation …

‘In the same vein I began to use water, and I began to use soil, because these elements have healing substances within them. Using earth was also a reference to my belonging, a reference to land, as well as a reference to healing, and to ownership. And the reference to land was also a reference to dispossession, and to the desire to reclaim land. And that’s the same reason I use water, because these are things that belong to the earth.’


© 2005 Michael Stevenson. All rights reserved.