Siwa Mgoboza: Africadia

17.11.2016 - 21.12.2016


For his solo exhibition at Semaphore, the South African artist Siwa Mgoboza created 32 new pieces to be incorporated into his visionary pastoral project Africadia. The work includes works of textile, collages and limited edition prints.

Africadia is a vision of harmonious fragmentation. It is not a utopia – a non-existent place - but a symbolic ‘future land’ that can be achieved in political terms through tolerance and understanding.

Hybridity is one of the underlying principles of Africadia. Mgoboza examines the conflicts inherent in the globalised subject, within whom divergent cultural influences affect the sense of a unified self. Instead of looking to allay disparate cultural and political forces, Mgoboza plays them out against each other, his artworks becoming kaleidoscopic visions of multiple strands of identity.

In the series Les Etres d’Africadia one observes culturally hybrid beings that are indistinguishable from each other in terms of race and gender. Mgoboza sets strips of highly coloured and patterned material alongside each other to create both the costumes for his beings and the settings they find themselves in, flattening the perspective and giving his hybrids and their backgrounds the same visual relevance. The textile Mgoboza uses is a series of patterned cloths originally manufactured in Manchester at the height of the British Empire and later brought to South Africa by German and Swiss settlers. French missionaries presented bales of the cloth to King Moshoeshoe I, ruler of the Sotho. Possibly named for the king, Seshweshwe has been used for Sotho traditional wear since the 1840s. The type of indigo dye applied in the printing of the patterns was used as far back as the Bronze Age. At the time of colonial hegemony European states used slave labour to cultivate the Indigofera plant in tropical territories. The production of cotton too, of which the cloth is made, has a history of forced labour and human subjugation. Today the textile is printed in South Africa but risks losing its market to cheap imports from Asia. The cloth symbolises shifting identity in a world where now, as then, conquest and domination exist alongside cultural exchange and trade.

Seshweshwe is present in all of Mgoboza’s works. In his tapestries, which vary in size from intricate, intimate circles 30 centimetres in diameter to large flamboyant pieces that break out of the confines of a strict geometry, the fragmentation and juxtaposition of old forms and patterns create new, visually dynamic compositions.

In Who Let The Beings Out? one of Mgoboza’s beings finds themselves set against a background of traditional African artefacts and antiques. The creature as a new representative of Africa seems both out of and perfectly in place. There are strong tropes that unite the two worlds (the masks, for one) just as there are disparate elements that separate them (the vibrant colours set against organic shades).

Mgoboza’s collages from The Ancestors series play elements from various worlds and environments against each other to create playful and ironic pieces. Seshweshe cuttings mediate each work’s visual unity.