Writing Art History Since 2002

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Though better known in Durban art circles as assistant curator of the NSA Gallery, Nkosinathi Gumede also possesses considerable artistic chops and is emerging as a creative force in his own right. Ample evidence of this was on display in his intriguing exhibition of oil paintings, entitled Ingapakathi Lami – My Intuitions.The works in his first solo exhibition are characterised by an interesting dichotomy, abstract backgrounds of dense, swirling colour, reminiscent of Rothko, incongruously punctured by seemingly quotidian and inert objects: a takkie; an office chair; a pair of scissors; a book; a school desk. Set against a maelstrom of paint, these static objects have a particular symbolic meaning. And, like all good abstract-cumsymbolic art, the passion is powerful yet ineffable; the emotion captured in the paintings intense yet evanescent.The juxtaposition of gripping metaphysical moods with ostensibly banal physical objects presents a compelling riddlein which Gumede has created a hybrid of abstract expressionismand postmodernism where the former’s viscerality chafesagainst the latter’s intellectual neutrality. And, while it is often difficult – and perhaps not even necessary – to connect the objects in the paintings to what they potentially represent, when the symbolic intent is evident it is all the more potent for it.One diptych of paintings features accident-scene chevron tape enclosing a school desk and a book adrift in a coruscating background of agitated sulphur-yellow. Gumede’s exhibition is informally subtitled “Black on Black” in order to reflect the artist’s concerns with the relationships between black people in South Africa, who he sees as having lost a great deal of their former solidarity.Hence the scabrous irony of the fact that the book in the one painting is A House Divided by, ahem, Catherine Cookson. The painting’s twin, which features the school desk, is entitled Model C and expresses the artist’s shock at a newspaper article about a set of wealthy black parents who removed their child from a school because the child reported he had a black teacher. (They promptly shipped him off to an exclusive, private “white” school.)Gumede’s dismay here also brings to mind Ayi Kwei Armah’s 1968 novel, The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born, in which the author writes of the nameless protagonist: “The man could have opened his mouth again, to talk of the irony of it all, of people being given power because they were good at shouting against the enslaving things of Europe, and of the same people using the same power for chasing after the same enslaving things.”Alex Sudheim

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