Khanyisile Mawhayi, STAGE, 2021, installation view
Beginning with the Side Gallery series in 2007 and continuing with RAMP in 2015, Stevenson has hosted a number of projects aimed at giving younger, unrepresented artists a platform at the gallery. Some notable alumni of these are Athi-Patra Ruga, Lerato Shadi, Serge Alain Nitegeka, Lady Skollie, Simon Gush and Igshaan Adams.
With STAGE the gallery continues this tradition. Besides offering a literal stage, the title also highlights that these artists are at a very particular point in their careers: no longer students, not yet professional artists. At the same time, it brings to mind the stages of lockdown and load shedding, part of South Africa’s daily reality in 2021. The latter association acknowledges the uncertainty and anxiety present in the lives of young artists working amidst overlapping local and global crises.
For the debut of this new series, Johannesburg-based artist and writer Khanyisile Mawhayi presents a series of drawings and photographic works that examine various influences on identity formation and explore perceptions of cultural and societal belonging.
Mawhayi often works with the female body, using its presence or absence to complicate notions of resilience, lineal customs and the performance of femininity. Drawing from art history, popular culture and personal experience, Mawhayi sees her wider practice as a reflection on how society sees young Black women.
For STAGE, Mawhayi exhibits works from The Ambivalent Blueprint, a body of cyanotypes that the artist says ‘was heavily influenced by process – the process of having conversations with my mother, with my friends, with taxi drivers and lecturers; and the process of drawing and printing and making’. The Prussian blue impressions fade and form around her family history, spotlighting how she manoeuvres through different spaces with a heightened awareness of the ways in which her identity is positioned and perceived. These elliptical portraits represent the beginning of her conversations with the people around her, bringing into focus the tensions and parallels between who the individuals are and how she views them.
The photographic works will be shown alongside a series of pastel drawings on canvas titled Soshangane/Shiyangane/Shangaan. Mawhayi uses as reference the Xibelani dance, a traditional dance of Tsonga women which shares its name with the multicoloured skirts worn during its performance. She recreates the pleated cloth and woven wool through layers of rhythmic mark-making. What emerges are unfettered compositions, tactile traces of Mawhayi’s process of unpacking her relationship to her Tsonga upbringing.
The artist writes:
I have always been aware of the many negative connotations surrounding the Xitsonga culture so I have always done my best to assimilate to my environment and cover up that I am Tsonga. For the most part this has worked just fine, but it has taken away from understanding my culture and how to speak the language or how I choose to perform this culture. I believe there is an element at play which further taps into the core of my position as a Tsonga woman. It stems from the lack of a relationship with the individual who brought me this heritage: my father. A tumultuous tango between what he could have given me and what he left me with, a grappling with identity.
Mawhayi was born in Krugersdorp, in 1998. She has a BA in Fine Art from the University of the Witwatersrand, and lives and works in Johannesburg.
The exhibition opens on Thursday 29 April 2021 at our Cape Town gallery as well as online - click here to view presentation.