Nicholas Hlobo

Nicholas Hlobo, Ndize, 2010. Photograph by Thierry Bal 

Nicholas Hlobo, Ndize, 2010. Photograph by Thierry Bal 

Nicholas Hlobo (b.1975, South Africa) creates sculptural installations that explore and reflect his Xhosa heritage. Personal and collective memory slides in and out of focus as he reframes and re-presents traditions and rites of passage. With intelligence and sensitivity, Hlobo considers how such customs are evolving in changing times. Entwined with this cultural scrutiny, the artist engages in an investigation of sexual identity and personal politics, contemplating his position as a gay man within Xhosa culture in post-apartheid South Africa.

In his investigation of past and present Hlobo reinvents and recycles objects. His materials often include leather, rubber, ribbon, furniture and other domestic found objects. The obsessive stitching, braiding and knotting he frequently employs reveals an intensity of making that revolves around craft and touch. The tactile nature of his materials and his hand-worked methods imply tradition and skill, but result in something that is more contemporary than historical in meaning. Unsurprisingly, Hlobo sometimes performs with his sculptures, partly dressed as – or in – one of his forms, further highlighting the significant relationship of materials and body.

For Touched Hlobo connected two galleries with a trail of rubber, fabric and white clay balls, enticing visitors into a game of hide-and-seek with his sculptural installation Ndize. In Xhosa the game of hide-and-seek was called ‘undize’, and ‘ndize’ was the player who seeks. Hlobo introduced us to ‘ndize’ in the ground-floor gallery; a lone figure leaning against the window, peering out, suggestively presented his rear and silently counted before the search began. From ‘ndize’ the playful trail wound its way around and out of the gallery, meandering up the stairs, in search of the other players.

Once upstairs, visitors were met with a sensuous maze of brightly coloured, densely woven ribbons that hung from a great height to the floor. For seekers in the game there were several paths to choose from; the labyrinth was delicious in its intimacy and mystery. Brief, tantalising glimpses through the ribbons revealed the hiding players, and after the challenge of wrong turns and dead ends, seekers eventually found them; an enigmatic couple engaged in a whispered conversation. It was not clear what sex they were. Their black rubber bodies were clothed with fabric and yet more rubber; their hands and faces were doll-like. Upon finding the hiding players the innocence of the game of hide-and-seek matured into the caress of adult fantasy.

Nicholas Hlobo at Liverpool Biennial 2010

Ndize, 2010
Recycled rubber, frabric, ribbon, white clay
Commissioned by and exhibited at the Bluecoat