FNB Art Joburg
Sandton Convention
Centre, Johannesburg,
South Africa

Exhibition of Interest

Challenging dominant narratives

with Asemahle Ntlonti

Through a collection of paintings with a muted palette —what the artist refers to as “shy colours” — Izonzobila echoes narratives with deep resonance to histories of loss and dispossession. Through her interdisciplinary practice, Asemahle Ntlonti brings together historical and autobiographical narratives, highlighting the violence of colonial legacies. 

Currently on view at blank in Cape Town, Izonzobila, which marks the artist’s fourth solo exhibition, delves into her internal world, emphasising the personal and collective relationships with the land. 

Ntlonti’s work challenges viewers to confront uncomfortable truths about the realities of black life but does so with subtlety and care. It would be too easy to read the works as abstract surfaces that can be expanded in meaning. Although meaning shifts in the work, the paintings are reflections on themes of loss and sustained sutured relations to home, often painful, heavy and burdened. Ntlonti’s work transcends mere aesthetic appreciation; it serves as a powerful commentary and provocation. And ofcourse ‘painting’ here also shifts in meaning, encompassing acrylic, paper, acrylic gel, cotton, and leno thread on canvas. 

Born in 1993 in Cape Town, South Africa, Ntlonti graduated from the University of Cape Town’s Michaelis School of Fine Art, where she majored in sculpture. Since then, her practice has traversed mediums and ways of working, including mixed media, painting and performance as forms of digging and excavating as well as mending and repairing, speaking to the scars of intergenerational traumas caused by the effects of subjugation and oppression. 

Through a slow process of making and marking, Ntlonti, in  Izonzobila navigates the intricate relationship between fundamental failure and structures of domination that shape our world. Her artistic exploration reveals the profound wounds that mark the land’s surface, embodying the constitutive violence that underpins our societal order. Her abstract forms hint at the deep-seated violence inherent in the structure of our society, manifesting as cracks in the composition that reflect the woundedness of the landscapes she portrays.

The land is revealed as a ravaged surface, punctured and scrubbed, capturing the profound labour necessary in the work of repair. In essence, the work challenges us to confront the enduring legacy of violence and structural oppression, urging us to rethink our understanding of history, memory, and the complexities of the human experience in a world shaped by systemic inequality and injustice. In the exhibition text accompanying the new work, Vusi Nkomo reads the work as delving deep into the complexities of structural impossibility and the enduring scars of historical violence that define our global modernity. Proposing Ntlonti’s approach as a potential new language of abstraction to explain the horror of coloniality. Ntlonti’s work therefore is an invitation to consider how systems of power shape our understanding of the world and our place within it, resonating with her examination of land dispossession in South Africa. It emerges as a powerful commentary on the complexities of black identity and experience, offering a counterpoint to narratives of oppression while poking at them and laying them bare. In essence, Ntlonti’s practice echoes the quest to unearth history and memory – how history can be understood and reimagined. 

Her practice exemplifies how black artists employ abstraction as a critical component within their artistic practices, creating spaces of imagination, possibility, and life for themselves and their communities. Her work serves as a powerful testament to her creativity in navigating the art landscape and challenging dominant narratives.

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