Since cities, borders and territories are made up
with Ntsako Nkuna
Putting together the most distinct and affecting parts of our world, without the presence of visible bodies, Ntsako Nkuna’s work challenges ideas of spatial neutrality. Following a conversation with the artist, this week’s Re:View looks at the development of her tactile, textured visual language.
Growing up in Kempton Park, Nkuna noticed the stark difference between the depth and enthusiasm of the interactions she witnessed there when compared to those she encountered while visiting her grandmother in Thembisa. “I don’t think it’s just the result of people living in the areas. One has high fences and the other allows you to see into the next yard. The distance or connection is for sure by design,” she asserts, before expanding on her fixation with the stop nonsense.
A stop nonsense refers to the precast concrete walls encasing houses in residential areas. A socio-spatial phenomenon, specific to South Africa, the idea ages back millennia. As much a barrier between yards, stop nonsenses are, depending on the relationship between neighbours, a site to survey or gather.
Actually, I came across the concept quite late. I started exploring it while studying fences. I had heard the term before while driving with my sister.” Jarred by hearing a command used to refer to an object, the playful description terrified and intrigued her. “Why would we refer to the people we share spaces with as nonsense?” The title of Ntsako Nkuna’s debut solo, Stop Nonsense is, in this context, an invitation to recognise the physical ways we communicate and understand territory, privacy, transparency and ownership.
The product of rendering, welding, manipulating and inscribing; things are far from what they seem when reading Nkuna’s work. Interdisciplinary, Nkuna’s works are screen-printed, digitally augmented 3D renders secured in metallic frames reminiscent of the floral burglar proof designs separating the home’s interior from its exterior where the audience views the works from. To study the impact of architectural structures, Nkuna builds a fictitious context, too dark to be utopian yet too childlike to be dystopian.
Verbalising the idea that what seems true, is indeed fabricated, Nkuna says, “It was quite intentional for the work to look as realistic as possible even though they aren’t photographs.” She laughs, happy to have presented a convincing take on photography. “My intention is always to draw audiences in with an image that looks familiar before I disrupt their judgment.”An exercise in raising caution, the more time spent with Nkuna’s work, the more uncomfortable its initial familiarity feels.
Phenomenology, interrogating orientation, Nkuna observes how the body understands and responds to spaces based on these large scale objects that occupy them.
The personification of daily migration (from the East to the centre of Johannesburg) and cautious occupation, Nkuna’s practice is what happens when an artist in constant motion absorbs their surroundings. Even though Nkuna’s practice acknowledges the city’s lexicon, codes, colours, inhibitions, freedoms and pessimisms, it does more than regurgitate them onto canvas.