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Lungiswa Gqunta

Artist 97 Lungiswa Gqunta Qokobe Installation

Lungiswa Gqunta is a South African visual artist whose work exposes different forms of violence by interrogating colonial landscapes and the spatial legacies that manifest as a result.

Gqunta focuses on creating multisensory experiences to better articulate social imbalances that resulted from colonialism through installation. These deal with spatial legacies, specifically the modes of exclusion and oppression within democratic South Africa.

‘Qokobe’ translates from isiXhosa to ‘empty container.’ Gqunta’s colloquial association with this word is the ‘matchbox’ or more directly, the matchbox houses which were provided by the government to people of colour in townships.

She deals with the issues of displacement, personal and political histories whilst conveying an understanding of home as both a site of comfort and struggle.

Her work provides commentary on the tools of segregation and oppression, using familiar and domestic objects which, when combined, become weapons. Bedsheets, beer bottles and matches recreate petrol bombs, pointing to the mobilisation of modes of resistance and agency.

These weapons of revolutionary violence litter the walls and floor, and serve both to envelop the senses of the viewer, and to expose the kind of racialized, classed, and gendered injustices at play that are made ‘invisible’ by the South African rainbow nation fairytale, and are in urgent need of destruction.

In frequent use of the petrol bomb, Gqunta fast forwards the often gentle, liberal, ‘nuanced’ conversation that art lovers seem to pride over more difficult self-reflective critique, and speaks directly to the urgent need for the decolonization of not only institutions, but the larger landscape.

There is a play between the use of softened fabric of used bedsheets- a domesticity that reminds us of a constructed femininity- coupled with the frequently referenced Black label beer bottle, whose marketing has intentionally been conceptualised according to a very specifically constructed Black masculinity.

These materials in combination, are the recipe for a petrol bomb, a tool used historically against perceived oppression and injustice. In combining these selected materials, Gqunta chooses less to explain the complexity of ‘black pain’ to a white audience, and rather opts for the expression of it as action that directly implicates.

Having grown up in a home where familial relationships were irrevocably intertwined with alcohol, Gqunta’s first-hand knowledge- the coming of age in a shebeen-household- is rife with complex tensions and contradictions. She looks at how alcohol was used a tool by colonizers.

The act of converting the subtle weapon of alcohol, into the fast-hitting, physically tangible petrol bomb, as the physicalized retaliation for long endured suffering, is a mode of fighting back that

is all too relevant in the contemporary art world of South Africa.

The materiality of the petrol bomb itself is a mode of appropriating the oppressors’ tool for the benefit of the oppressed.


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