STEVENSON is pleased to present Landings by Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi, her second solo exhibition with the gallery and her first in Cape Town.
With her pared-down shapes and blocked colour zones, Nkosi seeks the power of stories told with the minimum information necessary. In these works - paintings, prints and a sound installation - conceived during the accelerated crises of the past year, the artist zooms alternately in and out to examine multiple meanings of safety and ground.
The figurative works in the show are predominantly studies of human connection. Working within the aesthetic territory mapped out in her previous exhibition Gymnasium, Nkosi here moves away from a concern with the individual’s experience to focus on the shared encounter: pairs or small groups hold (and hold on to) one another, or converse at close quarters. Rendered in characteristically muted tones, the quietness of these moments stands in contrast to the ambiguous potency such interactions have assumed in the pandemic era.
Alongside these intimate scenes, Nkosi has produced a series of stark geometric paintings that continue her exploration of the arena’s interior, but zoom out to allow for more elemental studies of the charged, stage-like architecture. In these works the artist also tends more closely to classic abstraction than she has previously. The shapes may add up to the description of real spaces - communicating about and with the absent human form - or may just as easily be read as studies in geometrical and colour relationships.
Nkosi sees these opposing movements - zooming in and out - as complementary. ‘From close in,’ she writes, ‘one gets a feeling for how these figures’ relationships function. Sometimes as solace, sometimes as protection, sometimes maybe even as distraction. And when one moves away from the figures, to take a broader view of the context, one stands to gain a deeper understanding of one’s own and others’ place within it.’
Landings also features an edition of prints, titled An Account, as well as Chorus, a sound installation created by Nkosi and long-time collaborator Dion Monti. Each of these works extends the thematic investigation of the paintings by contextualising their human dimension.
Chorus - which intermixes television commentary, behind-the-scenes conversations and the ambient sounds of the gymnasium - examines the mechanisms by which physical endeavour becomes elite competition and mass entertainment. This encompassing work is a counterpoint to the paintings of human connection, the crucial, but often overlooked, centre around which such constructs are built.
An Account is also situated at the meeting point between narrative and the human. In this imaginary record of a few days in her studio, Nkosi employs the system of shorthand notations used by gymnastics judges. She writes:
On a given day I may attempt many manoeuvres. Sometimes a manoeuvre is made up of one or two moves. Perhaps this sort of purely descriptive account can be read as a non-judgmental gaze on my day, allowing me to see my own actions and work without unnecessary self-criticism or analysis. In that space, the difference between chaos and order, success and failure becomes indistinct.
Nkosi points out that in a gymnast’s routine, the landing holds more weight than any other moment. Doing it right is a matter of precise angles and bend: if you are only a few degrees off, point deductions, or serious injury, awaits. A successful landing - elegant, stable, safe - is possible only through balance: physical, mental, emotional. One has to be in the right frame of mind to land well. But where does that frame of mind come from? Is it something we can generate ourselves? Or is it something that arises in relation with others?
In Landings, Nkosi asks what we can be for each other when the ground is breaking apart beneath our feet. How do we find each other? How do we hold on to one another? Where can we land?
The exhibition opens on Saturday 12 February, 10am -1pm.