BLESSING NGOBENI | COMING OF THE UNKNOWN
Mar 31 – Apr 27, 2023
Blessing Ngobeni | COMING OF THE UNKNOWN
31 March - 27 April
Everard Read London presents a second solo exhibition by award-winning, South African artist, Blessing Ngobeni.
Ngobeni’s new paintings showcase the talent and distinctive style that has won the artist critical acclaim and recognition - including the Standard Bank Young Artist Award in 2020. This body of work builds on Ngobeni’s primary preoccupation with, and his ongoing commentary about, the dilemma of postcolonial states in Africa. The paintings invite us into a peculiar and beguiling universe of provocative imagery and incisive observations.
This collection of paintings depicts “shadows of spirits walking towards the land where humans reside,” says Ngobeni. “These shadows are searching for light and freedom. They have been chained and thrown in the belly of the sea for centuries. … Today people have forgotten their history and ancestors. These ancestors did not die for nothing. They are souls who died in pursuit of peace and hope for future generations. They died fighting for liberated existence, unchaining enslaved souls, and unifying the people.”
Ngobeni explains further, “The ancestorial shadows are the unknown creatures that constantly appear in my work. They are strange figures derived mostly from my nightmarish vision of the world we are living in. Some emerge from different animal worlds and others are figures of a future world. They are beyond my grasp and comprehension, they simply emerge and come into being during my creative process.”
Another theme that is central to Ngobeni’s art is a critique of an inept and unscrupulous ruling elite in South Africa. As an art historian, curator, and writer Thembinkosi Goniwe notes, Nogobeni’s objective is “to expose the deceptive and toxic behaviour of political leaders and the affluent class, in particular their incompetency, corruption and greed, the consequences of which are the twisted ideals of Pan-Africanism, turned into a pervasive nightmare, torturing the poor and working classes.” *
Ngobeni’s arresting and powerful, mixed-media paintings serve as a scathing condemnation of the country’s political elite and can be read as a direct attack on the structures of power. “Borrowing from the language of Surrealism, the anarchy of Dada and the figurative violence of Neo-Expressionism, particularly the work of American artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat”**, Ngobeni’s paintings are characterized by obsessive mark-making and littered with overt political references.
Goniwe explains further, “Ngobeni’s artworks are layered and dense owing to [his] creative strategy of combining images and texts he sources from various magazines, newspapers, books, and social media feeds. His visualising language is hybrid and evocative, employing techniques of collage, montage, painting, and drawing. In some instances, his language is aesthetically vulgar whilst in others tonally blue. With such a well-crafted black grammar Ngobeni produces pictorial compositions that are riveting and satirical in their critique of the post-colony…”
Of greatest concern to Ngobeni is the enduring hardship of the black majority whilst the national middle class appears oblivious, indulging in conspicuous consumption and a spectacle of wealth. Ngobeni’s works tend towards the vibrant, colourful, and aesthetically appealing, but if there is pessimism and despair underpinning them, it is fuelled by the oppressive and exploitative practices that are still at play in South Africa and which are “reminiscent of colonialism and apartheid, not least its complicity with neo-colonial apartheid masquerading as democracy as well as the rising Chinese imperialism.*”
Blessing Ngobeni’s work, with its violent mark-making and scenes of excess, are urgent warnings to political leaders to wake from the nightmarish present and begin building a more just and equitable new South Africa.
* Thembinkosi Goniwe, Short Meditations on Blessing Ngobeni’s “Chaotic Pleasure”, 2020
** Vitamin P3 New Perspectives in Painting, Phaidon, 2016