No Man’s Art Gallery is honoured to present ‘iNcence’, the first solo exhibition of Buhlebezwe Siwani in the Netherlands. Siwani has a multidisciplinary practice that includes video, drawing, and installation always in relation to the performative and bodily act. Siwani’s art practice is strongly correlated with her practice as an initiated sangoma, a spiritual healer that works within the space of the death and the living.
For ‘iNcence’, Siwani presents three large scale soap drawings on paper in dialogue with soap drawings on enamel plates and video work. Each of the works on display relates to the act of cleansing, both physically and spiritually. The act is performed by and for the black body. For Siwani, “the works reconcile broader ideas around the colonial, the black body, spirituality, how DNA carries trauma, memory and purity. “Soap and black bodies have been synonymous with the thought that black bodies are always dirty, that would mean that black men must be dirtier? But I am not a man; I am just a female lens that has been asked to cleanse herself endlessly in multiple ways because one is always thought of as a lesser or rather dirtier human being.” (Siwani) By performing the ritual of cleansing, both spiritually and physically, can one cleanse the presence of history and colonial trauma?
In the right mezzanine, we see a video in which Siwani performs a spiritual cleansing by removing the feathers of a white chicken from her body. The abstract suspended soap drawings on paper in de left mezzanine have taken bathing scenes as a point of departure, or rather the common trope of “the bathers” in the canon of Western art: the intimate ritual primarily performed by female nudes, symbolising cleanliness, vulnerability and purity. Siwani reacts to these representations by envisioning the black male into these scenes, seeking to disturb the idea that this sensitivity, purity and cleanliness is a feminine aspect or tied to female sensitivities while at the same time seeking to absolve the black male of the ways in which the black body has been represented in the Western art history.
Green soap is a well-known and everyday used product in South Africa’s rural areas by people with modest socio-economic conditions. In Siwani’s memory, the long brightly green bar is cut into pieces, each piece its own purpose: either meant for the laundry, the dishes, or the body. Its smell is penetrating, its composition tenacious. In the practice of Buhlebezwe Siwani its a recurring material, presented in many forms. Its usage in the large bather drawings alludes to the presence of the bodies that have been dissected and fetishized throughout (art) history.
‘iNcence’ is on view until the 20th of January 2019. Buhlebezwe Siwani completed her BAFA(Hons) at the Wits School of Arts in Johannesburg in 2011 and her MFA at the Michaelis School of Fine Arts in 2015. She has exhibited at Documenta14, Art/Afrique, Le Nouvel Atelier, Foundation Louis Vuitton, Africa Raccontare un Mondo, PAC museum Milan and Labor, Reparations, Theater Spektakel, Zurich, Switzerland. She currently works and lives in the Netherlands.
No Man’s Art Gallery invites all exhibiting artists to contribute to the NMAG Limited Edition Portfolio. Buhlebezwe Siwani contributed 10 small sized soap and gold drawings, available exclusively online.