Goodman Gallery Johannesburg
12 October – 9 November
Goodman Gallery is is pleased to present Joburg Selected, a new body of work by Sam Nhlengethwa which take the artist’s relationship to the city’s built environment as its source of inspiration.
Nhlengethwa was born in Springs in 1955 and grew up in the Ratanda location in Heidelberg, east of Johannesburg. Despite living outside of the city to this day, Nhlengethwa has spent much of his life working in and around Joburg, occupying a workspace at the Bag Factory in Fordsburg for 25 years and more recently, a studio at August House in Doornfontein. With this new series, Nhelgethwa reflects on the sights and sounds he’s absorbed during this period, zeroing in on a series of buildings and places which for one reason or another occupy a place in his impression of the city.
The human figures, typical of Nhlengethwa’s paintings and collage, are largely absent from this body of work. Instead, Joburg Selected is populated with a different cast of characters including the Market Theatre, Constitution Hill and Ponte City among others.
“The buildings become the persona here,” says Nhlengethwa. “They have their own stories and relate to our history in various ways.” By choosing to depict these specific sites Nhlengethwa views this work as an archive of the city and record of certain buildings that may not exist in the future. “When you look at what photographers like David Goldblatt did in the past, some of those structures no longer exist, but they’re on record. It’s about memory, more than just architecture”.
In addition to mixed media works on canvas, Joburg Selected features lithographic prints. Popular night spots such as Kitcheners and the now- defunct The Orbit are depicted in these scenes, “to remind people that we used to listen to good sounds there”. Another large work brings together several of the city’s iconic high rises into a made-up mise en scene and is titled, I Love Jozi, which for Nhlengethwa about “sums it up”.
Sam Nhlengethwa was born in the black township community of Payneville near Springs (a satellite mining town east of Johannesburg), in 1955 and grew up in Ratanda location in nearby Heidelberg. In the 1980s, he moved to Johannesburg where he honed his practice at the renowned Johannesburg Art Foundation under its founder Bill Ainslie.
Nhlengethwa is one of the founders of the legendary Bag Factory in Newtown, in the heart of the city, where he used to share studio space with fellow greats of this pioneering generation of South African artists, such as David Koloane and Pat Mautloa.
Despite Nhlengethwa’s pioneering role in South Africa art, his work has received rare visibility in London. A major survey exhibition, titled Life, Jazz and Lots of Other Things, was hosted by SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia in 2014, which was then co-hosted in Atlanta by SCAD and the Carter Center.
Other notable exhibitions and accolades in South Africa and around the world include: in 1994 – the year South Africa held its first democratic elections – Nhlengethwa was awarded the prestigious Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year award; in 1995, his work was included in the Whitechapel Gallery’s Seven Stories About Modern Art in Africa in London; in 2000, he participated in a two-man show at Seippel Art Gallery in Cologne.
Other significant international group exhibitions include Constructions: Contemporary Art from South Africa at Museu de Arte Contemporanea de Niteroi at in Brazil in 2011, Beyond Borders: Global Africa at the University of Michigan Museum of Art in 2018.
Nhlengethwa’s work has featured on a number of international biennales: in 2003, his work was included in the 8th Havana Biennale, Southern African Stories: A Print Collection, the 12th International Cairo Biennale in 2010, the 2013 Venice Biennale as part of the South African pavilion, titled Imaginary Fact: Contemporary South African Art and the Archive, and in the 6th Beijing Biennale in 2015.
Nhlengethwa’s practice features in important arts publications, such as Phaidon’s The 20th Century Art Book (2001).