Nicholas Hlobo: Izele

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michael stevenson Hill House De Smidt Street Green Point 8005 PO Box 616 Green Point 8051 Cape Town tel +27 (0)21 4212575 fax +27 (0)21 4212578

Cover: Dream catcher, 2006, rubber inner tube, ribbon

NICHOLAS HLOBO IZELE 17 august – 16 sEptEmbEr 2006

Izele means someone or something has given birth. But it has a double meaning. It could mean, for example, when you go to a tap and fill up a jug – Izele ijug, is the jug full? Zalisa ijug ngamanzi, fill the jug with water. It means filling something, or adding to something. The idea of giving birth is not foreign to the idea of adding to something that is there. Texts by Nicholas Hlobo, interviewed by Sophie Perryer, Cape Town, August 2006

Installation view with (left to right) Chitha, Ndiyafuna, Unojubalala and Intente

Umthubi 2006 exotic and indigenous wood, steel, wire, ribbon, rubber inner tube 200 x 400 x 730cm (variable)

In my work I explore Xhosa traditions or African traditions, and gender issues, with an emphasis on masculinity and rituals. When I thought of making an artwork that is particularly masculine, I decided to make a kraal – but also to challenge the purpose of the kraal. The kraal is a space where, firstly, cows are kept, and secondly, certain rituals take place. When the boys come out of the bush and go to their final graduation, the celebration where they are introduced back to the family, they go to the kraal and get advice. They sit there and older men advise them on how they should carry themselves now that they’re grown up. It’s a space where women are not freely allowed to go. Only if you are a daughter of the family can you go into the kraal. If a woman has married into the family, she will be invited into the kraal to be introduced to the ancestors. That ceremony, ukutyiswa amasi, gives her the right to enter the kraal. It’s also a space that symbolises wealth. The size of your kraal is like a show of how much wealth you have, as traditionally African wealth was portrayed through cows or sheep. This is more like a goat or sheep kraal. You’d only fit one or two cows in here, not more than that. I wanted to make it similar to a kraal you’d find in KwaZulu-Natal. I talk about Xhosa traditions, but the shape of this kraal is very rare among Xhosa communities. The Xhosa people make rectangular kraals; it’s only in Zululand that they make round kraals. I’ve used wooden stakes. The exotic and indigenous wood is symbolic in a sense. The reason for the indigenous wood is to be in touch with South Africa, where I come from, and the exotic wood, especially the blue gum, makes reference to the history and economic growth of South Africa. The blue gum came from Australia; it was brought here to be planted because it’s fast-growing, and it grows straight. When gold was discovered in Johannesburg, they needed timber to support the mineshafts. There’s also Pride of India, an ornamental tree. All these stakes have some spirituality, they make reference to other countries and cultures. In my works I talk about myself, my entire South African heritage. I’m not just Xhosa – in my genealogy there is diversity. Another thing I’ve done is make this look like a plaything, a trampoline. A trampoline is very serious, used by gymnasts, but it’s also used by kids. The reason I introduced play is to challenge the notion of what is respectable, and what is respected as a man’s space. The stakes have a rhythm that was influenced by the ground on which they were built. On one side they are almost upright, but on the other side they are leaning. They resemble people who are watching over what is happening here; they are like spectators of this game, keeping guard over everything inside the kraal.


Some of the stakes have knots that resemble wounds or genitalia. For example this could be an anus, or a vagina. The treatment of the wood was not planned. I got it from Yeoville near the water tower. We had to chop it, cut off the branches and then throw each piece to the bottom of the hill. The wood was scarred by this process, which could be related to how hard the route is that men have to take when they go through the process of initiation. This is not only the case with Xhosa initiation into manhood, it happens in all cultures. If you’re gay, you have to work your way up to being accepted by your family and the community; first you have to accept yourself. It’s all about hardship, the hard road you have to take as a person. The title Umthubi is inspired by the boys who go to a house where a cow has given birth to a new calf. For about three days after the birth, the kids help to feed the calf by cooking the cow’s milk, which is called umthubi – it becomes porridge, almost like cheese, very rich and very nice. It’s about helping, giving a hand to someone else. This is a celebration of new life.


Unojubalala 2006 detail rubber inner tube, ribbon on Fabriano paper 80 x 100cm

Unojubalala – ‘Tadpole’

Isisindo samadlozi 2006 rubber inner tube, scale, ribbon, plastic tube, fabric 225 x 90 x 60cm (variable)

Isisindo means ‘the weight’. Idlozi is an Nguni word, but in Zulu it means the ancestors. Most people read this as ‘the weight of the ancestors’. But in Xhosa idlozi means the sperm. The verb is ukudloza which means ejaculate, or reaching a climax. So it’s a word that people don’t like using in front of children. This is playing with that Nguni word, idlozi. Isisindo samadlozi – the weight of the sperms. I’ve made these two balls and an amputated phallus-like shape. It could be a dildo, or the gear stick of a car, if you look at the stitching. The rubber that covers it looks like a sheath. And it’s suspended on a scale. I was thinking about someone going to an old general dealer in the countryside or the township, where you get anything from needles to food – you get your shoes there, your jacket … You’d get some beans or grain and you’d weigh it using the scale. Even fishermen could use this scale. You would get the scale in a butchery. And these balls, the whole structure, looks to me like something that is butchered. The reason I thought of something being butchered is because of the problems we have around male circumcision in Xhosa culture. Some boys have to go to hospital because of botched circumcision. The penis part is cut. I used red ribbon there to suggest veins, blood that is flowing through. I went rough on it, like an inexperienced surgeon. The balls – you think it’s a scrotum, but at the same time it looks skinned. I was playing with the idea of something that is inside/outside. It feels like maybe there should be another cover that goes over them, because normally the balls do not look like this. It’s almost like being a scientist, you decide to cut them and open them to see how much they weigh. It’s also about the idea of men, or some men, having the tendency to put their confidence below their belt. The idea of them feeling, I am a man, I have balls, and my dick is what really carries me around. Not using your head but using your penis. This is almost like weighing somebody’s masculinity. How do you judge or weigh yourself as a man – is it through your balls, is it by the weight you have between your legs, or is it you as a person? And I was also playing with the idea of the ancestors, amadlozi. The sperm and the ancestors are related, because sperm are part of the seeds that give life. For the spirit to be there, there had to be a sperm first. This is challenging ideas about manhood. I come from a culture where the penis is very important. You have to be circumcised not at a very young age, but when you are old enough to make that decision, and that part of your life is very important. This work is really trying to ask whether the penis and the balls are important. Are they what I need to focus on as a man, to be recognised as a man? How do you weigh manhood? And the idea of pain, and also – this could be a dildo – the idea of pleasure that is accompanied by pain.





Ndiyafuna 2006 glass fibre, rubber inner tube, ribbon, jeans, sneakers, lace, wood 110 x 170 x 100cm (approximate)

The meaning of the word ndiyafuna depends on the context of the sentence – it could mean ‘I am looking’ or ‘I desire’. It’s about needing something, desiring something, looking for something. For example, someone could say, ‘would you like to go out with me?’ – ‘uyafuna uyafuna?’ It could mean looking for something you’ve lost. It’s looking at the idea of searching for or concealing one’s identity. And it makes reference to certain fashion trends. The teenagers who are into hip hop wear their pants halfway down their buttocks with their boxers revealed – something that is very challenging to older people! And the kids, when they dress like that, they feel very good about it. There’s something very sexual about it, the way the figure is standing with his pants halfway down his buttocks. He’s wearing rubber. Here I was playing with top and bottom, inside and outside. The body is black rubber, and so is the underwear. There are bits of my clothes – the shoes, the underwear I had to sacrifice for the elastic band, on which is written ‘urban survival’. It’s almost like someone prostituting himself, because of the position, and having to give up parts of yourself to survive. The trousers are from the Young Designers Emporium. Aspects of the work relate to things we know, our particular heritage. Instead of using new shoes, and new jeans, these garments have some history. This man is going into this bag – I think of the shape of the bag almost as a caterpillar. It’s as if he decided to go into the bag looking for something. I don’t know what this bag contains. This could be a cultural bag. It could be an identity bag. This could be a creature swallowing a person. There’s something about it that I can’t describe. It has this round breast, just one, and valves – which are used to inflate something, to blow into. This man could be giving a blow job to this bag, so that it gets its shape – maybe that’s what he’s doing there. It’s playing with the idea of not knowing, the world of the known and the unknown. We don’t know what’s happening inside there. And the title is Ndiyafuna. When you read the title or say it out loud, it’s in the first person so it is you, the observer, who is desiring. You would like to go in there and see what is happening. There’s also the position – you’d love to be behind him. And when you have to carry it around, there’s no other way of holding it – you’re forced to do this, to put your hands between his legs. This man is hot. I wanted to play with the colours of the red and pink ribbons. Even though I use pink to suggest homosexuality, pink is also a very strong colour in the Xhosa tradition. There are pink beads, and the Bhaca people use pink pompoms in their headdresses. So, the colours relate to fashion – Xhosa traditional fashion. Red relates more to the red masks that people wear – the initiates would wear red masks when they are coming out – and it relates to Aids, and to blood.




What I find fascinating about the rubber I use, from used inner tubes, is the patches where there’s been a puncture – which goes to the idea of treatment I did not intend, somebody else had to do it for me. The label on this patch says ‘Two Way Tube Repair’ and ‘13’ – I don’t know whether this is 13 inch or what. The tubes themselves come in sizes, which are in inches. It’s like saying ‘you’re a size queen’. Even though the man is going into the bag, he could be being ejected by this creature. It’s confused. On the one hand he’s being consumed, on the other hand this thing is giving birth to him.


Intente 2006 rubber inner tube, ribbon, fabric, rocks

This work is inspired, firstly, by the phrase that young boys would use, especially in the Eastern Cape, to refer to an erection – umis’ iintente, ‘he’s got his tents up’. But it’s also looking at colonial history and the Anglo-Zulu battles, especially at Isandlwana. The British soldiers were defeated in that battle: they had two camps, and when they were attacked at one of the camps, the commander made the mistake of not ordering his soldiers to lower the tents to signal to the other camp that they were in trouble. At the lookout they thought everything was fine because the tents were up.

195 x 270 x 265cm (variable)

It has a red head which refers to the soldiers’ uniforms. Imagine walking in Zululand in a red uniform – you can be seen from far away. Of course it also relates to the head of the penis. If you can get your penis up, then everything is OK, but when it’s down, you need help. I initially planned to make a cone-like structure, but it ended up becoming a pole. This was because of the material. The rubber tubing is very difficult to work with when you’re trying to get a specific shape. I wanted to use rectangular pieces because of the Xhosa dress-making tradition where they use patchwork. They call that technique ukuxola. Ukuxola also means being at peace, uxolile. It is as though one is at peace with all the scars that are dressed with patches – think of reconciliation in this country. The bottom of the work could be an ordinary Xhosa skirt, which is then elongated to give it the phallic shape. Now I’ve added ropes, and stones at the end of the ropes to give it weight. If you walk in the homesteads, in people’s yards, you’ll see they use wire to keep the fences in place, with a big rock as an anchor. The ropes are there to control the pressure or life that exists under the cover. It’s like a rocket. If you removed the ropes it might lift off.



Full blown 2005 acrylic paint, thread, orange peel on Canson paper 49 x 64cm



Chitha 2006 wooden dumb valet, jacket, rubber inner tube, silicon, fabric, ribbon 116 x 140 x 114cm (variable)

Chitha means chucking out water, but it’s also slang for ejaculating. It’s a humorous term mainly used by young men – ‘I came’, ndichithile. The piece combines feminine and masculine objects. The bottom part is a woman wearing a rubber dress, stitched with pink ribbon, and a white frill with pink bows. The rubber has very phallic valves, as if you have to blow her up. She is lifting up a man, who is suggested by a brown suit jacket draped over a wooden dumb valet. This suggests a time in South Africa when the government has set policies to try and encourage businesses to empower women. The woman is lifting the man, so she has this weight, but also the power that she can lift a man. She’s in charge of the situation. She’s lifting the man right up against the wall. The man is not taking this easily. The shoulders belong to both of them – they’re bound together, like Siamese twins or someone with multiple personality disorder. She’s wearing a shawl made of black silicon, the colour of mourning. Black absorbs energy, so the woman is taking all the energy from the man and pushing him right up the wall. She’s going to fling him over and take his position. The way the woman is carrying the man, in the form of the wooden dumb valet, also reminds me of traditional African women. There’s an old saying, ‘the black woman’s power is on her neck’. Especially Xhosa women, they’d go to the forest to gather wood and carry these large weights on their heads. If you live in the urban areas of Johannesburg, you’ll see the Shangaan women who sell peanuts. They light their braziers using coals, then carry these hot braziers on top of their heads when they go to set up their stalls. There’s a sense of defying danger. It’s the same with women in the Transkei who go and gather wood. The Shangaan women and the Xhosa women, the reason they take the risk of breaking their necks, or having hot coals burn them, is because they’re working hard to provide for their families. Most of them play a very strong role in the running of the household; some are breadwinners. This work is looking at the idea of women being empowered to take charge of everything. And perhaps there are women hidden within some men’s bodies. Chitha can also refer to destroying something. If this woman is taking over the man’s role and chucking her husband over her shoulder, putting him behind her, she’s destroying existing conventions. That’s what men are concerned about, they feel scared that they might not have a place anymore. Men are being taken out of their comfort zones, which is the effect of sexual identity politics on our heterosexual society.





Xakatha 2006 silicon, thread on Fabriano paper 69 x 100cm


Xakatha – ‘To cover the shoulders’, for example with a shawl


Umkwetha 2006 silicon, rubber (costume) performance, Michael Stevenson Gallery, 17 August 2006


Umkwetha – ‘initiate’, for example an initiate into manhood, or a trainee traditional healer





Dream catcher 2006 rubber inner tube, ribbon

This work is inspired by the Native American objects called dream catchers. I believe they would hang this object over your bed to guard you in your sleep, to keep away bad dreams. It’s like a sieve, the way I view it. What I have made is a fantasy object. The woven pink ribbon in the centre is like the net of the dream catcher that we know. But it has a phallus. So if you’re a gay boy or even a woman, this is something that catches your dreams, whatever those dreams may be.

155 x 55 x 25cm (variable)

It uses an inflated rubber tube which is suspended from a rope. It’s like a rubber safety ring you would find on a boat, which reminds me of sailors. You know, in gay culture you get boys who like wearing uniform … This is just playing around with ideas of sex and fantasy and dreams. Wet dreams. When I was making the work it reminded me of the inflatable toys that kids have in the pool, that have the head of a duck. But this looks more like a dildo. You hang it up there, above your head. If I was sleeping I’d look up to it, to maybe entice me to dream better. The dreams travel up the rope to the ceiling, to somewhere I don’t know …

Bhaxa Iqinile 2006 wooden chairs, Sunlight soap, ribbon 80 x 63 x 48cm each (approximate)

Here I got a model to sit naked in Sunlight soap which I poured onto ball and claw chairs – a very South African furniture design. One of the chairs I rescued from my neighbours, the other I bought in a junk store. I’m a trash collector and love old chairs. I thought they’d look good as I live in an old Edwardian house, but they had no seats. Many of the objects I collect become art works. The ball and claw are very masculine – the lion’s feet have a strong grip on the balls. You think of the Zulu nation and other African nations – if you belong to the royal family or are a warrior who has done something very good, you’d be given a lion’s claw necklace. The soap is a very South African product. It came from the West but is no longer manufactured there. If you go to Holland, you’ll find Sunlight in an antiquities museum there. The logo hasn’t changed much since Victorian times. For black people, it is cheap, you use it on your skin, to treat acne, it’s shampoo for your hair, they use it to clean babies, to wash clothes with … People like it because there’s no perfume, no additives, it’s just basic soap. You can use it for almost anything. To work with the soap you have to chop it and boil it to make a liquid, and then you pour it. Once it dries it begins to grow a white mould that looks like icing on a cake. It decays. As with rubber, I like the fact that I can’t control it, it does things that I do not intend. Here it has started taking on the colour of the wood. Bhaxa means ‘sitting down carelessly’. If you’re a child, playing in the sand, your mother might say ‘kutheni wahlala bhaxa phantsi, phakama’, ‘stand up, why don’t you use a chair, or a blanket?’ It always relates to the process of falling down, sitting on your buttocks in a rough or careless way. When you say ubhaxa, it can relate to meat from a bad carcass, perhaps a cow that was sick. People feel disgusted – ‘Why are you eating ubhaxa?’ When the soap started taking on the colour of the wood, it reminded me of a dead carcass. Iqinile is inspired by the outline of the balls in the soap. It’s a word people use in relation to teenage boys when they reach puberty and start misbehaving: ‘You think you’re old now, your balls are tough’ – aqinile. This also relates to a boy or man who is physically and emotionally strong.




Unongayindoda – ‘one who almost looks like a woman’


The material was slipping and sliding when we were cutting it, and so I thought the dress should be called Imtyibilizi xa yomile, ‘slippery when dry’. Later I realised that this is like sex without a lubricant amongst men, ‘dry sex’. I wanted to create this big, exaggerated dress, where the corset could fit someone – although of course it can’t be worn because the top is closed. It is a very feminine structure, yet masculine at the same time.


Imtyibilizi xa yomile 2006 organza, rubber, ribbon 260 x 600 x 330cm (variable)

In a while 2006 handbag, rubber inner tube, ribbon

The dress is like an octopus which can close or open its tentacles. Imagine a performance in which a drag queen with a harness on her waist is hoisted up gently, so the dress becomes elongated, then lowered again, so the dress opens. Organza is often used to make costumes for drag queens. The reason for commenting on this culture is that drag queens are disappearing. Men are getting back into being men. When I was coming out as a young man, there were more men in makeup and dresses than there are now. The work celebrates that aspect of gay culture, the idea of acting as a woman – although I should say that some of these men see themselves as women. In my culture, if you say you’re gay most people expect to see makeup and frocks. When I come in shorts, looking butch and wearing a rasta hat, I’m not gay. It’s a celebration of femininity, beautiful and transparent …

34 x 53 x 46cm (variable)

Boots from the performance Igqirha lendlela 2005

The fabric is like being in water. Water conceals but at the same time you can see through it. It has a copper colour, with a blue thread in it. The skirt is almost on fire. You have the wood fire and the gas fire. In the shadows, depending on the light, you see the blue. Blue movies and the gay magazine, Blue Boy, are other associations. The pearls are fake. The material is synthetic, man-made. At the bottom of the corset, instead of lace, I punched holes in the rubber to give it a lacy effect.

rubber inner tube, ribbon 43 x 52 x 43cm (variable) performance at Vansa conference, Cape Town, February 2006


The inner tubes here are new. You don’t see any patches. But you can see that this dress has passed the test. It has gone through the production line and has all these little stamps that say ‘K pass’. I don’t know what this means, but when I think of ‘K’, among black people, this means one is two-timing. Once the other party knows, they’ll call the person you’re having an affair with their ‘K’. It’s like the person they’re in competition with. So this dress has passed the competition. But sometimes I tend to read too much into things.



Boots from the performance Igqirha lendlela 2005 rubber inner tube, ribbon, leather 54 x 46 x 30cm performances at Michael Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town, December 2005; Sessions eKapa, Cape Town, December 2005; and as part of the exhibition Olvida Quien Soy at the Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderno, Las Palmas, Canary Islands, February 2006 for more on Igqirha lendlela, see South African art 1848 – now (Michael Stevenson, catalogue no 18, December 2005)



Nicholas Hlobo


Born Cape Town, 1975. Lives and works in Johannesburg Graduated from Technikon Witwatersrand with B Tech degree, 2002

I would like to thank my parents, Victoria Gabela, James Cathels, Linda Gabela, Kamogelo Mokhonki, Patra Ruga, and all the staff at Michael Stevenson Gallery

Selected group exhibitions and performances 2006 Second to None, Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town Olvida Quien Soy – Erase me from who I am, Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderno, Las Palmas, Canary Islands (exhibition and performance) Performance at Vansa conference, Cape Town 2005 Performance at Sessions eKapa, Cape Town South African art 1848 – now, Michael Stevenson, Cape Town Synergy, Iziko Old Town House Museum, Cape Town Inventors, makers and movers, Arti et Amicitiae, Amsterdam, The Netherlands In the making: materials and process, Michael Stevenson, Cape Town Take me to the river, Pretoria Art Museum, Pretoria Subject to change, Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town Klein Karoo National Arts Festival, Oudtshoorn, South Africa 10 Years 100 Artists, Bell-Roberts Gallery, Cape Town 2004 Jo’burg Art City, Johannesburg Development Agency, Johannesburg Negotiate: Intercession, Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg Mine(d) Fields, Stadtgalerie, Bern, Switzerland A Decade of Democracy: Witnessing South Africa, Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, Boston, Massachusetts, USA (travelling to Florida A&M University, Tallahassee, Florida, USA; KZNSA Gallery, Durban, 2005) Show Us What You’re Made Of II, The Premises Gallery, Johannesburg 2003 Makeshift, Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg 18th Absa L’Atelier Exhibition, Absa Gallery, Johannesburg 2002 Technikon Witwatersrand Fine Art exhibition, MuseumAfrica, Johannesburg Jo’burg Art City, The Fort, Constitution Hill, Johannesburg 17th Absa L’Atelier Exhibition, Absa Gallery, Johannesburg 2001 Technikon Witwatersrand Fine Art exhibition, MuseumAfrica, Johannesburg 1998 Artist Proof Studio Exhibition, Cape Town Awards and residencies 2006 Ampersand Foundation Fellowship for 2007 2006 Tollman Award for Visual Art 2006 2005 Three-month residency at Thami Mnyele Foundation, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Catalogue no 22 August 2006 Edited and designed by Sophie Perryer Photography Kathy Comfort-Skead Scanning Tony Meintjes Printing Hansa Print, Cape Town

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