Nicholas Hlobo   (b. 1975)

Rubber inner tube, ribbon on paper
71 x 99cm

Hlobo has built up a distinctive body of work that engages the viewer in conversations about sexuality, masculinity, ethnicity and his heritage as a South African. To these ends he harnesses the associative potential of materials such as rubber inner tubing, leather, ribbons and soap, and adopts techniques often regarded as ‘women’s work’ including sewing and weaving. In the wall piece Proposal Hlobo playfully subverts the traditional roles assigned to genders through reference to the Zulu beaded ‘love letters’ made by young women to communicate their desires to unmarried men within the codes of a symbolic language. He frequently employs Xhosa idioms and phrases to draw attention to things that ‘people find embarrassing in society’, and the work titled Yiphathe ngembambo, ‘carry it in your chest’, implies this ‘feeling of keeping something behind closed doors’. As Hlobo say, ‘the body is like a closet, a cupboard … It is a holy place yet also a filthy place, and we choose to open our closets for people to know what resides inside.’

Like Igqirha lendlela, the work presented on last year’s season exhibition, Ntywilela ngaphantsi makes manifest ‘the baggage we carry around with us as South Africans’. The work began as a sculpture and, Hlobo says, ‘grew into something I didn’t intend’ – a performance in which the artist dons an S&M-style leather harness and cuffs and drags the sculpture behind him ‘like a horse would pull a cart’. The title means ‘to dive into the water, but also below, underneath, the private parts’ – a playful sexual reference that at the same time warns of the danger of domination as ‘the baggage becomes your master’.

Hlobo held his first solo exhibition, Izele, at Michael Stevenson in August/September 2006, and has his second scheduled with Extraspazio in Rome in mid-2007. He has been awarded an Ampersand Fellowship in New York in 2007, and received the Tollman Award for the Visual Arts in 2006 and a Thami Mnyele Foundation residency in Amsterdam in 2005. Group exhibitions in 2006 included Second to None at the Iziko South African National Gallery and Olvida Quien Soy – Erase me from who I am at the Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderno in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

© 2006 Michael Stevenson. All rights reserved.