In 2018, the recipient of the BNAP (Blessing Ngobeni Art Prize) was Simphiwe Buthelezi. She was invited to the SABC news show Morning Live to speak about work and exhibition at The Bag Factory.
Simphiwe Buthelezi’s first solo exhibition, entitled LALA LA, was opened at The Bag Factory Artist’s Studios in partnership with Blessing Ngobeni Art Prize.
Simphiwe Buthelezi (b. 1996) lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa. Her artistic practice is a manifestation of her ongoing interest in the endurance of the female form, sites of blackness, tradition and the gendered gaze in relation to family bonds. In 2016, she received the opportunity to participate in a peer mentoring programme hosted by Assemblage Studios which launched her development as a young artist. In 2017, she was a participant of the Artist Career Boot Camp conducted by Art Source South Africa and hosted by the Bag Factory Artist’s Studios.
Lala la means ‘come rest here’ in Zulu. It is a thread that has run through many of the titles and works in Buthelezi’s previous work and is a theme she has explored intensively during the past three months. Lala la, come rest here, is something a woman would say to a lover, a mother to a child, a child to a mother, or a child to a father. It implies an attempt to offer comfort, reconciliation, and an acceptance of loss; while also exploring love and the idea of love as sacrifice, as something worth dying for.
In terms of her feminist vision of an artist, LALA LA, come rest here, is also a place Buthelezi has created for herself – a place where she can be free from societal pressures to nurture, fix, and make everything ‘right’. “I am trying to create this atmosphere of rest where it doesn’t always have to be right. You can really rest here. You can talk about anything here. You can just be here. And I am trying to create that atmosphere of rest, not just for myself, but for the people who come see the show.”
Throughout this exciting new body of work, the artist has employed different elements like light, sound, straw, and found items such as ornate gilded picture frames, ‘feminine’ objects like plastic buttons, beads, and hair, as well as oxidised metal in various forms. At the centre of the exhibition, a salvaged chandelier represents enlightenment for the artist. Straw mats are re-purposed, woven and rewoven, stained, or shredded. The mats are especially significant to the artist; not only as something you sit on at home, a domestic item, but also as a representation of family and memory, through the objects, as ‘heirlooms’, and the technique passed down to her by her grandmother, who weaves mats from recycled materials. Symbolically, straw mats are laid down at burials, before the casket is lowered into its final resting place; and they are used as a ritualistic item when consulting or trying to reach a different realm. “I feel like the material speaks so much for itself that it becomes a struggle to impose on it or know what to do to it. Maybe with the cutting and shredding of the straw I have been trying to find healing. Trying to understand something that is so deeply hidden within myself.”
Written by Candice Allison