Critics’ Picks

Bonolo Kavula, Mpho ya Badimo, 2022, Punched Shweshwe, thread and Wood, 30 x 21 7/8".

Bonolo Kavula, Mpho ya Badimo, 2022, Punched Shweshwe, thread and Wood, 30 x 21 7/8".

Cape Town

Bonolo Kavula

SMAC Gallery | Cape Town
145 Sir Lowry Road The Palms
November 17, 2022–January 28, 2023

Bonolo Kavula decided early in her career what she did not want her art practice to be about: the political burden of being a Black woman in South Africa. Born in 1992, the artist found that most of the art history she encountered in her country was charged with the discourses of racial and cultural identity politics. Since her time studying at the Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town, Kavula has been determined to play and experiment with form. She has developed a visual language that is entirely her own, drawing from traditions of both painting and printmaking. Her works, elaborate and precise, consist of simple materials: thread, canvas, shweshwe fabric, and glue.

In a time where narrative figuration saturates the contemporary African art scene, Kavula’s abstract “hanging textile print works” (as she prefers to term them) have a refreshing visual autonomy and aesthetic independence. Leveraging the optical illusions created by shweshwe patterns in relation to their distance from the viewer, the pieces radically reorganize the surrounding space. Kavula’s work is minimalistic and yet detailed, abstract and yet representational, if one considers the references packed into the fabric. A living heirloom, the shweshwe dress is worn mostly by an older generation of women in South Africa, and its longer history has been shaped by colonialism.

“Soft Landing” marks the artist’s third solo exhibition, and its concepts have their genesis in Kavula’s concurrent solo exhibition at the Norval Foundation. Part of what she does in this circuit of ideas is overlay two simple patterns to create complex visual layers, as in Mpho ya Badimo (The Gift of the Gods, 2022). This is work that demands careful attention, shifting the discourse on art production in Africa away from narration and toward raw emotion.