Writing Art History Since 2002

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Gallery Momo | Johannesburg

Shepherd Ndudzo is a Zimbabwean artist currently living and working in Botswana. He comes from a long line of Zimbabwean sculptors, his father, Barnabas Ndudzo, a student of Job Kekana, founder of the Kekana Art and Craft school in Rusape, Zimbabwe in the 1960s. Kekana, in turn, is a graduate of Grace Dieu, an Anglican mission school attended by Gerard Sekoto, amongst others. Ndudzo, currently enrolled as a literature student at UNISA, began his professional career in 1999, in Botswana, under the tutelage of his father. He has since developed his own style although his wood, stone and metal sculptures remain stylistically indebted to his father and Kekana. The work shown here is characterised by its elongated forms and repetitive use of bodily features including hands, feet and arms. Specific character details are not important to the artist; he prefers to emphasise texture and form. Made from Wild Syringa, Ironwood and stone, the natural beauty of the artist’s materials is further enhanced by his habit of sanding or carving patterns into it, thereby further adding contrast to his work. Although based on his personal experiences, the works also draw on folk stories and address the socio-political crisis affecting his home country, Zimbabwe. Not unexpectedly, given that he lives in exile, his works also deal with acculturation. In By the Fence (2006), three figures lean on a fence looking on in amazement at events we can only imagine. One possible interpretation is that this is a wry comment on the approach of “quiet diplomacy” taken by the South African government towards Zimbabwe. Perhaps.Many of Ndudzo’s works are presented flat, laid out horizontally across the floor. In conversation, the artist spoke of his desire to have viewers engage his work from above, not at eye level. Not everyone who encountered his work was convinced by the logic and aesthetic outcome of this approach. Another noteworthy piece on his show was Tug of War, which depicts three figures pulling on a rope. The work is a literal portrayal of greed. “If the people in this world can appreciate that there is enough to go around, there would be no disharmony,” argues Ndudzo. In this vein, he presented two sculptures that combine stone and wood. Both titled Relationships, they highlight the artist’s belief that there are more “commonalities than differences that are always highlighted by racial purists”.Ndudzo is an avid reader of African literature and it is in writing that he finds inspiration for his work. His reading interests though are wide-ranging, and include political thought, polemics on socio-economics and works focussed on culture. Although motivated to make social commentary on contemporary issues, the outcome of his practice is never overtly political. Gallerist Monna Mokoena must be thanked for showing Ndudzo’s work, whose daring and experimental approach complements that of gallery artists Roger Botembe and Johannes Phokela.

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