The Fantastic Ride to Gwadana: New Works by Simphiwe Ndzube
There is a whimsy warbling through the works of Simphiwe Ndzube that captivates like a dark, deceptive fairytale. Characters with long, flexible limbs dance through a mystical journey, softly but eloquently, finding meaning in myth in their perception of the confounding Mine Moon universe, which the artist presents at the Stevenson Viewing Room in Johannesburg through January 2021 in his solo show, The Fantastic Ride to Gwadana.
Mostly large-scale mixed media works that incorporate sculpture, installation, and painting, are continuing his fantastical documentation of the imaginary Mine Moon universe, this time portraying a cast of extraordinary characters on The Fantastic Ride to Gwadana. Known as "the Mecca of witches," this particular place was of exceptional interest for the artist whose work is revolving around indigenous belief systems and the idiosyncracies of otherness. "The stigma associated with the place has resulted in secrecy and dissociation with Gwadana by those who grew up there," the artist states in the press release for this immersive exhibition. "This folkloric version of Gwadana acts as a portal for me to enter into the concept of fantasy and the way that it plays out in daily life."
We recently reviewed Ndzube's presentation of works on paper with the gallery in Amsterdam, presenting studies for the larger, more elaborate pieces that are now on view in his homeland. Currently based in LA, displaced far from home, the artist's longing for his native culture manifests itself in these exceptional works that combine folklore and fantasy. "I’m interested in witchcraft as it relates to explorations and adventures into the fantastical and the imaginary world; its connection to magical realism and the postcolonial experience of people; the relationship between traditional values and western modernity; and the boundaries between the thinkable and unthinkable, the visible and the invisible," the artist explains his particular interest.
And where Western art often reaches for this subject in order to speak of gender roles, Ndzube uses his work to propose a scenario in which sexes might have a chance to transcend traditional, divided gender roles. He is more interested in creating parallels between the way that "rational," often government-backed ideologies can marginalize a certain group of people with the way that irrational, fantastical beliefs are doing the same to a certain group too. Allowing his subjects to break out from the flatness of the canvas, the magical component of the work becomes almost tangible and the entire story that much more real. And in order to make this effect even more impactful and include other senses, The Fantastic Ride to Gwadana includes a soundscape created by the artist in collaboration with Thabo K Makgolo and Zimbini Makwethu. As a whole, the work is "celebratory, a protest and an outcry against misjudgments of character and ultimate injustice against women, especially the elderly who are often associated with witchcraft," the artist concludes.—Sasha Bogojev