Africa has long fused the worlds of spirituality, ancestry and creativity to aid communication with the non-material, divine realm. These practices continue to this day despite colonial incursions and the influence of modern western modes.
This rich seam of history and culture is mined by today’s African artists. Their work both affirms and interrogates the traditions and heritage within which they situate themselves, and in so doing, they evolve contemporary art on the Continent. There are seven noteworthy young artists whose work is in this vein, who are currently showing pieces as part of the Tulbagh-based show of 40 young artists, 40 under 40: Asemahle Ntlonti, Sahlah Davids, Ofentse ‘King Debs’ Letebele, Sepidah Mehraban, Buhlebezwe Siwani, Scott Eric Williams and Stephane Edith Conradie.
Just one hour and 30 minutes’ drive from Cape Town, you’ll find the historic Twee Jonge Gezellen Estate, the home of Krone Cap Classique, where 40 under 40 is located. The exhibition, which is presented by KRONE X WHATIFTHEWORLD gallery, runs until 28 February 2022. One of the hottest cultural events on the summer arts calendar, 40 under 40 invites visitors to commune with the ancestors, and contemplate past and present, as they wander through the beautiful grounds of the estate and the various exhibitions sites, all connected by a route map.
Asemahle Ntlonti is an artist born and based in Cape Town. She traces her ancestry through the visual language of beads, and safety pin ityali (a traditional blanket). These objects – passed from mothers and daughters, between neighbours, across generations – map lineages of care and collectivity. Merging and remaking these objects on a large scale, Ntlonti emphasises the sacred and symbolic.
Ntlonti’s painting practice is guided by dreams, memories and intuition and involves building up and eroding the canvas surface. To create these surfaces she uses paint, soap, and found packaging materials. Like her sculptural work, these materials are also deeply imbued with various cultural associations.
Ntlonti has held three solo exhibitions Vuthulula and Nothwala impahlana at WHATIFTHEWORLD and Kukho Isililo Somntu II, at Blank Projects. In 2020, she participated in the group shows 021 – 2021, Stevenson, Amsterdam; Space & Place, Galerie EIGEN + ART, Leipzig.
Sahlah Davids is a mixed-media artist from Cape Town. Growing up with a tailor for a grandfather and a seamstress for a grandmother, has been a major influence on her use of textiles and beadwork. These skills, shared communally and transferred between generations, link Davids’ work to both personal ancestry and the broader history of the Cape Muslim community, for whom textiles symbolise both exploitation and emancipation, struggle and spirituality.
Since completing her bachelor’s degree in Fine Art at the University of Cape Town in 2020, Davids has exhibited in Tell Me 3 Things About Yourself at Jaffer Modern and MASHŪRAH at Greatmore Studios.
Ofentse ‘King Debs’ Letebele is a multimedia artist and designer based in Cape Town. He is best known for his large-scale mural works comprising self-developed calligraphy: a synthesis of glyphs and scripts which correspond to the oral tradition of Setswana. More recent work sees King Debs project this heritage onto Afrofuturisms through 3D digital art, VR/AR and animation.
King Debs has exhibited in group exhibitions both locally and internationally, including the National Arts Festival, the Association for Visual Arts, Gallery MOMO, the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art and the Museum of African Design. Some notable career highlights include being a finalist at Chester Art Fair in 2018 and winning the nationwide BOS Ice Tea Design-a-can competition in 2015. In 2014, he was a finalist in the World Design Capital public art competition.
Sepideh Mehraban is an Iranian-born artist who works and lives in Cape Town. Her works layer paint, glue, and screen-printed images onto both canvas and carpet. This act of layering creates a palimpsest that mirrors Mehraban’s line of inquiry: How does political memory obscure personal memory, and vice versa? The question is posed in the context of both post-revolutionary Iran and post-apartheid South Africa.
Mehraban recently completed her PhD thesis and solo exhibition THIS IS NOT PROPAGANDA. In 2018, Mehraban curated a group exhibition bringing together Iranian and South African artists, titled Cape to Tehran at Gallery MOMO. Selected group exhibitions include Space and Place at Galerie EIGEN + Art in Leipzig (2021); In Your Shadow – Masking Realities at Smac Gallery (2021), Surroundings at Suburbia Contemporary in Florence (2020), and The Main Complaint at Zeitz MOCAA (2019).
Buhlebezwe Siwani is an artist from the Eastern Cape, working between Cape Town and Amsterdam. Through performance, photography and installation, Siwani investigates the black feminine body as viewed by opposing forces: on the one hand, a vessel for divine knowledge and communication with the ancestors and, on the other, the object of colonial rule and patriarchal domination. A practising sangoma, her artworks are informed by sacred rituals.
Siwani’s solo exhibitions include: Dedisa ubumnyama, Cairns Art Gallery (2021); ukuqhaqha, Camera Work, Palazzo Rasponi, Ravenna (2021); Inkanyamba, Galeria Municipal de Arte de Almada (2020); othunjiweyo, Galeria Madragoa, Lisbon (2019); Qab’Imbola, WHATIFTHEWORLD (2018); Imfazwe yenkaba, Galeria Madragoa, Lisbon (2017); and Ingxowayegqwirhakazi, WHATIFTHEWORLD (2016). Notable exhibitions include The Power of My Hands, Paris Museum of Modern Art, Paris ( 2021); Living Forgiving Remembering, Museum Arnheim, Netherlands (2021); Witness: Afro Perspectives from the Jorge M. Perez collection, Miami (2020).
Scott Eric Williams
Scott Eric Williams is an award-winning artist and youth educator from Cape Town. Using a diverse range of media – from sculpture to street art – Williams contemplates issues of heritage within a history of migration and marginalisation. Site specific materials, installations and activations plot the manifestation of these histories in inner-city spaces.
As a solo artist, he has exhibited at Eclectica Contemporary, Dyman Contemporary, Geumgang Nature Art Biennale and Michaelis, amongst others. As a founding member of Burning Museum, he exhibited at the Centre for African Studies, Brundyn+, Kunsthaus Dresden and on the streets of Cape Town. In 2019, Williams received an Andrew Mellon award for his work at Stellenbosch University.
Stephané Edith Conradie
Stephané Edith Conradie, originally from Namibia, now lives and works in Cape Town. Conradie is best known for her bricolage assemblages. These ornate sculptures of found objects, inspired by home décor found in lower and working class homes in South Africa, examine the histories of colonialism and creolisation embedded in domestic material culture, calling into question how identity is coded in the private domain.
Conradie’s first solo exhibition, Ordentilikheid: a creolised object, was held at Gallery MOMO in 2017, followed by Domestic Lives, Nomadic Belongings in 2019. Recent group exhibitions include Materiality at Iziko South African National Gallery as well as Black Luminosity and Shaping Things at Smac in Stellenbosch.
Dates to diarise:
40 under 40 was envisioned to provide a broad survey of young artists whilst using curatorial intervention to foster meaning through contextualising the selected works in relation to one another. To allow visitors a more personal engagement with the pieces on show, including the works specifically to do with ancestry, there will be guided public walkabouts on the dates below:
6 November 2021
4 December 2021
15 January 2022
5 February 2022
Entrance to the exhibition itself is free. Pre-booking for the walkabouts is advised. Book here via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.