Painting of Interest
Walk the Naughty Aughties thematic track
with Sithembiso Sibisi
Featured in our Of Interest series this week is Sithembiso Sibisi’s Taxi Group (2003). Forming a part of SMAC Gallery’s current group show, Naughty Aughties, we consider the retrospective lessons and questions Sibisi’s work poses.
There are a handful of group shows on South Africa’s art circuit at the moment. In Cape Town, Stevenson has Where do I begin curated by Alexander Richards while Eclectica Contemporary shows Girls Run the World. Here in Johannesburg, SMAC Gallery recently opened Naughty Aughties.
From Anton Kannemeyer to Nandipha Mntambo, Naughty Aughties attempts to track the thematic ground contemporary South African artists covered from 2000 to 2010. Although the show features a plethora of artists working across varying mediums, one work in particular beckoned contemplation.
Beyond their deaths being in quick succession to each other, Sibisi, like George Pemba and Trevor Makhoba, was part of South Africa’s urban realism cohort. Painting baptisms, night vigils, stokvel gatherings, commutes, and domestic weekday nights, Sibisi empathetically drew the audience’s eye to the ways he saw kinship, mutuality, and spiritual play out in the spaces he belonged to or encountered.
Although concerned with community, there is an autobiographical air about Sibisi’s work. A self taught artist, Sibisi began at the Caversham Centre for Artists and Writers in Howick, KwaZulu-Natal. Whether deliberate or through coincidence, the decision was read by scholars as Sibisi’s material means to negotiate and navigate his calling to ubungoma. Connecting and diverging, the two practices informed and challenged each other.
Painted in 2003, Taxi Group is a daytime scene inside a minibus of commuters making their way out of a lush countryside setting. Holding a hen nestled in a plastic and dressed in the red that most sangoma novices wear to symbolise the transformative process the apprentice is going through, one of the thirteen visible passengers sits in the middle of the painting, framed by his company’s disapproval. Shifting both their bodies and possessions away from the initiate, the passengers he sits between furrow their brows and glare at him as if their body language will shield them from catching the man’s ancestral pride.
While there is currently a public shift toward embracing indigenous knowledge systems, spiritual practices and ways of being, there was a time, not too long ago, where the standard rigidly embraced Western, capitalist and religious. If I was not careful and slow to process, seeing the nineteen year-old painting today would have offered me some comfort because of how far it looks as though we have come.
Naughty Aughties is currently on show at SMAC Gallery in Parkhurst. The exhibition runs until 1 October 2022.