Happy Dhlame

Happy Dhlame’s exhibition Partial Observation draws on the artist’s immediate environment as its subject matter. Dhlame looks specifically at abandoned buildings in urban centres and how these structures retain traces of their inhabitants. He explores the idea that the sites we occupy are imbued with our projected selves, evidenced through our aesthetic choices. The material surface of buildings therefore function as an archive of moral and socio-political codes or conditions.

Happy Dhlame’s exhibition Partial Observation draws on the artist’s immediate environment as its subject matter. Dhlame looks specifically at abandoned buildings in urban centres and how these structures retain traces of their inhabitants. He explores the idea that the sites we occupy are imbued with our projected selves, evidenced through our aesthetic choices. The material surface of buildings therefore function as an archive of moral and socio-political codes or conditions.Dhlame elaborates on this notion through his focused attention on the surface quality of his works. His mixed media canvases operate as pale palimpsests. Textures, patterns and graphic elements overlay in a manner that is inherently part of the fluid iconography of city spaces. The surface of buildings, represented by the canvases, translates into deeper levels of accumulated or depleted meaning. These abstracted ‘walls’ become vehicles from which exterior and interior space blur. Public and private realms become fragmented and disjointed as figurative elements are painted over or merely suggested.Dhlame is a graduate from the renowned FUNDA Community College. He later went on to study in Switzerland, at the Ecole de Cantonale d’Art du Valais (2002), and the Ecole Supérieure in France (2004). In many ways his training shows through the socially focused and environment-specific subject matter, as well as the craft-based processes he utilises, which he combines with a more European style of abstraction and archiving.I was particularly drawn to a more figurative piece that shows ex-president Thabo Mbeki in a rallying pose against a pale flat background. Mbeki’s arm is outstretched with a jubilant expression on his face; beside him graffiti style lettering reads, “I was there, where were you?”. I have seen these words written on a dilapidated building in Newtown (a likely source for the lettering) and appreciated the translation of a personal comment in the public arena being transformed into commentary on a greater socio-political issue. Its dissemination in the elite context of a gallery space continued to capture the malleability of space. One is given the sense of the power of the public realm to generate meaning.Sexy concepts aside it is difficult to respond to a white room full of pastel toned paintings. In many ways my experience of the exhibition echoed its muted palette. There was not much that provoked or excited, topics were raised but meandered into a pallid aesthetic exercise of texture and paint. Dhlame did not develop the palimpsest sufficiently, rendering his archival process mute.
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