Art is all about perspective. Stand close to his work and the fibres that thread together the ropes in Nkhensani Rihlampfu’s pieces engross.
A step or two back, the figures depicted begin to appear. The Absa L ’Atelier winning artist’s exceptional work is fast gaining reputational momentum and his new works, collectively named Mintsu Island, are testament to his well-deserved accolades. The exhibit opens this weekend.
Nkhensani creates multimedia using various materials, but a central theme is rope. “It’s like a torn shirt, and then you just use its thread to sew it back together again. So, I think strings also become that to me.”
It is about deconstruction and creation. It is about the fact that up close you see the materials used and from a distance, the humanness starts to appear, he says.
“You know, we’re trying to find solutions,” he says of humanity. Of his work, he talks about the “problem that I created and then try to find solutions by depicting figures that are marching to the promised land. Some are enjoying it as a promised land,” others not so much. “So, it’s quite a world on its own for me and I’m attached to it. It just keeps growing.”
The Mintsu Island body of work reflects where society is presently, says Nkhensani. On an island.
“I think that’s where we are. That is where my heart is headed to now. I am talking about an imaginary island and it is a paradise island. It’s the world that we all yearn to live in, the perfect world.” And he believes that he is on the same page as his audience when it comes to interpreting how he finds expression.
“Sometimes an author, the artist, dies and their opinion does not matter any more. But I feel in many instances people understand what I am trying to do. My figures are all about the body language, as they don’t have faces and it speaks volumes.”
The exhibition brochure describes the work aptly: “He ties in the similarities between a mass exodus of workers, in contrast with the labouring processes, which complete his masterpieces which serves as a joint peace of mind. The structures depict the pilgrimage of individuals exiled from towns, villages and cities, in pursuit of a haven. The artist pays attention to the efforts that individuals exert to adapt and evolve into a new normal.”
Of this, Nkhensani says that some people see futurism, others slavery. “The fact that so many facets are visible to the audience makes me glad.”
Apart from Mintsu Island, he is planning another major exhibition for later this year and in-between will be hosting masterclasses for emerging artists in partnership with Absa. “Art is a business,” he says, “and while your craft is important, so is being able to pay the bills.” He says therefore Absa’s L ’Atelier programme is making a substantial and positive contribution to art.
“Art or being an artist no longer has that romantic perception about artists just painting or sculpting in bliss. There is actually so much more to do as an artist, so I think the artists themselves are realising just how much of a business this is.”
Mintsu Island opens on 17 April and ends 18 April at Nkhensani’s studio, 2 Eloff Street, Johannesburg.