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The Goodman Gallery was proud to host an exhibition of works by Sam Nhlengethwa. The opening was on the Thursday 19th February 2004 and closed the Saturday 13th March 2004 at 16h00.
Sam says that ‘This exhibition is a culmination of a thought that began 10 years ago. Perhaps on some subconscious level it is very fitting that parallel to this show is the year we celebrate 10 years of democracy. The title of this exhibition is ‘Glimpses of the Fifties and Sixties’. I have chosen to work in the style to which I have become accustomed (collage) and to also explore my printing via the photogravure process. I think one of the reasons I like this process is that it has an element of collage in it, but the process is more physically involved and delicate. It entails digitizing an initial collage and working through at least five plates before even considering the trial print to be used for the series.
I sourced material from the Drum magazine archives and I also looked through my own family albums. The use of my own archive was important because I wanted to reflect an intimacy and a familiarity that would make the images accessible. Looking through the albums I reminisced about growing up in my grandmother’s house and how I always found the dining with the wedding photograph so intriguing. I also recalled enjoying a softball match in Westonaria (a small mining community on the West Rand) amidst the many dompas and curfew laws. Today these images have now been revived in the music videos of Mafikizolo and the ‘Stoned Cherry’ fashion label. I think I’m lucky in the sense that I have used art as an outlet for the frustrations I encountered during this time. My visual expression through painting was therapeutic and has now been transformed into what I believe to be a historical retrospective’.
Sam Nhlengethwa was born in the mining community of Payneville Springs in 1955 and grew up in Ratanda location in Heidelberg, east of Johannesburg. He completed a two-year Fine Art Diploma at the Rorkes Drift Art Centre in the late 1970s. While he exhibited extensively both locally and abroad during the 1980s and ’90s, Nhlengethwa’s travelling solo show South Africa, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow in 1993 established him at the vanguard of critical consciousness in South Africa and he went on to win the Standard Bank Young Artist Award in 1994.
Nhlengethwa was born into a family of jazz lovers; his two brothers both collected jazz music and his deceased eldest brother was a jazz musician. “Painting jazz pieces is an avenue or outlet for expressing my love for the music,” he once said in an interview. "As I paint, I listen to jazz and visualise the performance. Jazz performers improvise within the conventions of their chosen styles. In an ensemble, for example, there are vocal styles that include freedom of vocal colour, call-and-response patterns and rhythmic complexities played by different members. Painting jazz allows me to literally put colour onto these vocal colours.
“Jazz is rhythmic and it emphasises interpretation rather than composition. There are deliberate tonal distortions that contribute to its uniqueness. My jazz collages, with their distorted patterns, attempt to communicate all of this. As a collagist and painter, fortunately, the technique allows me this freedom of expression… What I am doing is not new though, as there are other artists before me who painted jazz pieces. For example, Gerard Sekoto, Romare Bearden and Henri Matisse.”
Nhlengethwa’s work has been included in key exhibitions such as Seven Stories About Modern Art in Africa at the Whitechapel Gallery in London and major publications such as Phaidon’s The 20th Century Art Book. He has had several solo shows in South Africa and abroad, exhibiting in the 12th International Cairo Biennale (2010) and in Constructions: Contemporary Art from South Africa at Museu de Arte Contemporanea de Niteroi (2011) in Brazil. In 2018 Nhlengethwa was included on the group exhibition Beyond Borders: Global Africa at the University of Michigan Museum of Art.