Critics’ Picks

Simphiwe Ndzube, To Dream Without Land to Plough, 2016, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Cape Town

Simphiwe Ndzube

WHATIFTHEWORLD | Cape Town
16 Buiten Street
October 19 - November 26

Cape Town–based sculptor Simphiwe Ndzube’s debut solo exhibition, “Becoming,” bookends a year of sustained buzz around the artist’s accumulative sculptural installations. In late 2015, he clinched the prestigious Michaelis Prize at the University of Cape Town for his undergraduate body of work composed of found materials—notably fabrics and cast-off fashions. Centrally occupied with the human figure, his standout piece, Raft, 2015, presents a densely packed assembly of objects that includes tenuous figural elements; it references both the Mediterranean migrant crisis and plight of Cape Town’s slum settlements, where Ndzube grew up. This show extends Ndzube’s figurative concerns and additive aesthetic, though his works now possess a more atomized form, reaching to encompass assemblage paintings and photographic tableaux presenting the artist in disheveled costume.

But it is still his sculpture that compels. To Dream Without Land to Plough, 2016––an installation which quotes Kendell Geers that is composed of a primitive wheelbarrow flanked by three suspended blocks of burnt wood––describes, in an Arte Povera grammar, the precarity and frustration of slum life. In the room-spanning installation The Rain Prayers, 2016, Ndzube conjures attenuated figures in procession from a tangle of untreated timber poles shod with black work shoes and topped with gaudy party wigs, protective gloves, umbrellas, and neckties. The work invokes the carnivalesque spirit of Cape Town’s annual minstrel festival while speaking to South Africa’s crippling drought, a rolling event that has drawn out deep reserves of faith, ritual, and community engagement. A series of three life-size corpulent, headless male figures, Untitled I–III, all 2016, each idiosyncratically styled in worn jackets and protective work wear, affirm the primacy of costume, disguise, and the fragile body in Ndzube’s practice.