Hlobo has developed a distinctive body of work, stitching and weaving
disparate materials such as ribbon, rubber, gauze and leather to
create seductively tactile sculptures and drawings. His works are
richly layered, anchored in references to Xhosa culture and the
experience of life in post-Apartheid South Africa, while reflecting
upon themes of language and communication, gender and sexuality,
race and ethnicity.
of making is fundamental to Hlobo. He utilises techniques such as
stitching and weaving, which are traditionally undertaken by women
in South Africa. His choice of materials is similarly charged with
meaning. The old and punctured inner tubes of car tyres that he
gathers from repair shops in Johannesburg are a symbol of industrialisation
and the urban experience. For Hlobo, the rubber has particular significance
as an emblem of masculinity, not simply because car ownership in
South Africa is a masculine status symbol, but also because the
inner tubes resemble condoms. Sexual themes are often implicit in
his works through his use of phallus and sperm shapes, and forms
resembling orifices, umbilical cords and internal organs.
The satin ribbon
that he uses to make his marks on paper, and which literally connects
the disparate elements of his sculptures, suggests femininity, domesticity
and unification, in contrast to the more ‘masculine’
materials that it binds together. The ribbon, and the way it is
used, challenges gender-based assumptions about divisions of labour
and introduces a more ambiguous approach to sexuality.
titles his works in his native tongue, Xhosa, an Nguni language
widely spoken in South Africa. Attracted to the formal qualities
of the grammar, the sounds of the words, and the linguistic flexibility
of Xhosa, Hlobo’s use of the language, with all its poetic
idioms, proverbs, and double entendres, is as much about defining
himself as it is an effort to convey difficult truths and encourage
dialogue around complex social issues.
presents four recent works by Hlobo, which focus on process and
communication. Its title, Uhambo,means ‘The Journey’,
referring to the physical and mental process of creating these pieces
and the passage of the works from one cultural context to another.
Diary 2008 (detail), 2380 x 15570 mm, Courtesy of the artist
and Michael Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town © Nicholas Hlobo.
Photo: Clifford Shain