Presenting both mixed media on canvas paintings as well as leather and wood sculptures, Hlobo’s newest body of work makes use of the migratory patterns of eels as a point of departure, and reconsiders as allegory the personal transformation necessary to his own artistic journey. Centered around organic and corporeal imagery, the exhibition elaborates on recurring themes of the artist’s concern with beauty, pain, pleasure, and cycles of life. The artist will be present for an opening reception at the gallery on Wednesday, February 24 from 6-8PM.
Hlobo (pronounced sloh-boh) is known for his intricate, sprawling installations that incorporate organic sculptures, performance, work on paper, and video installations. He employs tactile materials such as ribbon, leather, wood and rubber, which he often melds and weaves to create his two- and three- dimensional works. By incorporating influences from his ethnic and cultural background such as the Xhosa language and references to traditional craft, ritual, sexual orientation, gender, and nationality into his works, Hlobo address the constant shifting and subjective nature inherent in these identifiers. The eradication of legalized discrimination and segregation that came with the end of Apartheid in 1994 saw Hlobo and his peers empowered to voice their views under the protection of new laws. This fundamental right to challenge political and societal issues has been exercised and articulated at the core of Hlobo’s work in the years since.
In his first solo gallery show in New York, Hlobo will present a number of new works inspired by the migratory patterns of eels. Cut and stitched together, and woven with leather, the works on canvas (referred to by the artist as paintings) are given greater dimensionality through handmade impressions, which echo the sculptures made of a tree trunk and stump embellished with leather. Hlobo also incorporates found objects into his works. In the work Umkhokeli, which roughly translates to “leader” or “master,” he uses a vintage leather flagpole holster, sewn into tentacle-like ribbon embroidery and fashions it with a leather phallus in place of a flag,
For the artist, the mating ritual of eels is ripe with metaphor. The animals spend the majority of their solitary lives near the shoreline, but swim thousands of miles to the deep ocean when biologically called to spawn, and, ultimately die after their final progenerative act. It is the eels’ abandonment of familiar territory for the ocean’s unknown depths that resonates with Hlobo; the voyage of the eels is symbolic of the existential notions of transformation in the artist’s personal creative journey that is guided by the subconscious. The belief in artistic instinct is essential to Hlobo, who begins production of any piece free from preconception or planned aesthetic result.