100 World Class South Africans: Nicholas Hlobo

2013-06-12 12:00

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A new kind of African art

On the first day of previews at the 2011 Venice Biennale, Nicholas Hlobo’s massive sculptural work, ‘Limpundulu Zonke Ziyandilandela’ (‘All the Lightning Birds are After Me’) was purchased for an undisclosed sum – similar large-scale works fetch around $250 000 – by Jochen Zeitz, CEO of sportswear company Puma.

Hlobo, a former labourer turned artist, produces fantastical and provocative works in fabric, leather, ribbon and his signature black inner-tyre tubing in his studio in Johannesburg.

His pieces cover big themes: gender, sexuality, race, language.

He told Frieze magazine in 2008, ‘Most people say my work is not so black.

I quite enjoy that because I am somehow celebrating all my heritages: African, colonial, all those things personal to me, the language I speak.’

Hlobo has exhibited at galleries and museums from Boston and Oslo to The Hague and Rome, and had a solo show at the Tate Modern in London.

He’s in demand at biennales and triennales – in Guangzhou, Havana, Paris, Liverpool and Sydney – and been mentored by leading sculptor Anish Kapoor as the Rolex Visual Arts Protégé for 2010/11, one of the world’s most prestigious art prizes.

He’s come a long way from his childhood in rural Transkei but he’s never forgotten his roots; his works are inspired by cultural traditions and always have an isiXhosa title – with a fair amount of innuendo.

Indeed, figuring out the many layers in Hlobo’s pieces is half the joy of viewing them.

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