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Nicholas Hlobo

Artist 35

Nicholas Hlobo Identity Art

Nicholas Hlobo is a South African artist based in Johannesburg, South Africa. He creates large sculptural works that are expansive masses which at once feel oozey, voluptuous and highly structured. The contrast of femininity and masculinity is created by his use of dissimilar materials such as rubber inner tubes, ribbon, organza, lace and found objects.

Hlobo explores his identity and his sexuality, and the way these connect to his inner world and his biography, expressing the paradox of being both out in the open and under the covers — an insider and outsider — in all the worlds he inhabits: Xhosa son, Eastern Cape homeboy, gay cosmopolitan, art world rising star.

All Hlobo’s work, to date, has been threaded thematically along the procreative cycle. His first solo exhibition was Izele, which means giving birth. His second was Kwatsityw’iziko, or “crossing the hearth”, a metaphor for sex.

He feels “very lucky” to have come of age in an era of liberation, one which validated that “the choice lies within you, not what other people tell you”.

“But the times are different; I have got this liberty which I am taking advantage of.”

He always gives his work titles in isiXhosa. The titles often refer, subtly, to body parts, cultural practices or sexual acts. Thus the act of thinking through Hlobo’s work involves prying apart the aesthetic, historical and conceptual from the biographical.

In this way, Hlobo’s work operates both on visual and linguistic levels. It presents a problem.

Not everyone is an isiXhosa speaker. So what is the intention, given that some titles are explained, but others are not? Even the ones that are explained often have double meanings or complex histories.

It clarified his thinking about concealment: “Most establishments were unmarked, literally underground. People just go past. This makes me think about what is hidden and what is open; with revealing some things and hiding others; holding back. You’re never clear about what’s happening. You get to understand little by little.”

This duality with language and material is very powerful. The way how he manipulates materials holds deeper meaning.

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