Re:View

Rest, expansion and tender landings

with Bonolo Kavula

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A multidisciplinary artist mostly known for bringing sculptural and textile sensibilities to printmaking, Bonolo Kavula approaches contemporary art as a restorative entity. The 2022 recipient of the Norval Sovereign African Art Prize, Kavula is in the process of recovering from an eventful year. Taking stock of her future plans we consider her exhibition Soft Landing in this week’s Re:View.

Coming off the back of an eventful year for Bonolo Kavula, the Soft Landing exhibition has a double-edged public and personal function. 

On a personal front, Soft Landing is a reception for rest. “With Lewatle, I wanted to make the institution proud and set the tone for those who would follow so I put my back into it. Soft Landing is like an exhale. I wanted to breathe and let my body know that it’s okay to relax,” she says, laughing. For the public the show is a gentle  invitation to expand the ways her practice is read or understood. “I’m introducing new ways of making that you will be seeing more of from 2023.” A visual artist commonly applying and merging textile and printmaking sensibilities, Kavula’s practice is multidisciplinary. “For instance,” Kavula adds, “I haven’t made video art in ages and some people may not know that I do so it’s softly saying I am a video artist.” 

Although Kavula dismissed video work for a while, it is a medium she took interest in while studying. First conceptualised in 2020, the video work featured in Soft Landing is titled May I. “Some ideas take time to make sense and this is one of them.” Referencing video artist Lisa Steele, Kavula’s mother and Miriam Makeba, May I brings the erasure and silencing of Black femmes to the fore.

In Talking Tongues (1982), Steele portrays Beatrice Small; a woman subject to domestic violence. Seen smoking a cigarette, the 11 minute monologue lets audiences witness Small’s attempt to garner sympathy and understanding from the people close to her. A nod to Steele, Kavula’s character is vaguely seen smoking a cigarette under her dotted motif. “Even though you can’t hear it, I’m embodying my mom and retelling the story of how she was murdered. But nobody can hear it, I mean my mom’s story is hers and I don’t want to take ownership of her narrative,” explains Kavula.

While most of the monologue is whispered, the character is audible when she says “I have to say the things I say.” Taken from Miriam Makeba’s 1969 interview in Finland where one of the activist’s radical thoughts are punctuated by the assertion, “I have to say the things I say,” in Kavula’s May I, it’s a warcry defying the silencing of Black femmes. “As a black woman there is this anxiety that comes with being vocal. That’s why I titled it May I. I’m saying what I have to say but there’s an expectation to ask for permission as I say it.” A request for consent, May I, in addition to the other mediums Kavula introduces, folds perfectly into Soft Landing’s tenderness, expanding and deepening the audience’s reading of the artist and her visual vocabulary. 

As a whole, Soft Landing does what it sets out to do. Considering how sensitive the public often is to change, Soft Landing carefully straddles resemblance and development using Kavula’s dotted motif as a golden thread between her existing and unknown approaches. 

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Ruth Ige. Don't hide your glory, 2022.
Acrylic on canvas. 122 x 122cm. (© Copyright 2022, STEVENSON. All rights reserved)