Brush handles and matchsticks
Ever since I was a child, I was taught that even a cardboard box is a blank canvas. It could be turned into a shelf, a table, or even a mat. As an artist, I continue to see everyday objects waiting to become beautiful things. Throughout my career, I have begun to understand the links between the capitalist white supremacist system and the way in which these forms of art practice are ignored and erased from the art historical lens.
In galleries, we see artists present work where the dizzying level of polish acts as yet another layer of division on the socio-political spectrum, yet the everyday artists who are, mostly women, craft daily the existences of many South Africans whose home spaces may be the only safe space they know. To these women we say - that art is not high enough for us. Not polished. Not aesthetic. Women who turn the most basic homes into incredible works of art, using magazines, newspapers, and food wrappers to decorate the walls and create meaning.
Visual artist Lungiswa Gqunta talks beautifully about her work when she says: ‘Back then we had a red stoep. We still have it actually but we’re not as obsessive about it as we used to be. You had to polish it until it shines, on your knees. When my friends come in here and I talk about the red stoep they all have stories of how we had to labor, and we all had to be on our knees to make sure that our family’s house always looks amazing. I was thinking and remembering that act of buffing the stoep so that it shines and in doing so, in my work, I work of resistance. I don’t think only of us, black people in resistance, but I call on my ancestors because I am speaking of land and so I cannot take them out of the narrative. I’m always calling and asking them to be in the work and to help me figure out ways to move forward, to create a change, and to articulate something that somebody may be having trouble understanding’.
Nobukho Nqaba, Bronwyn Katz, and Donna Kukama are all artists who interpret the concept of home differently, but with a focus on various types of women’s work in South Africa and its employment of the impossible banal. Mary Sibande interrogates domestic work where there’s a script, a costume, a whole aesthetic, and objects that all constitute the form. Instead of representing these realities with outdated, inaccessible materials, artists are looking around them and remixing the various elements of their particular space.
These efforts encompass somewhat ironically the uncanny ontologies of millions of black folk in the capitalist inscriptions of care. Making something out of nothing. The magical displays of pattern and rhythm conjured through deficit echo the movement of womxn’s work through the homes it conjures. This is the space that these artworks inhabit. That space out there, in here, and in between.