Nel is an artist owned and run gallery in Cape Town's Art, Antiques and Design hub of Church Street. It runs a constantly changing exhibition of paintings, sculptures and ceramics. It also has solo and two person exhibitions at select times throughout the year. Nel mainly focuses on artists from Cape Town but artists from the rest of the country and international artists are also represented.
Steven Sack is a South African artist whose primary medium is sculpture. One-time Chief Director of the Department of Arts and Culture, he has built a reputation as a respected pioneer of the arts in South Africa. As a dedicated CEO in his various leadership roles, he had little time to be in the studio, which meant having time to practice art was constrained and he needed to work at speed. He once remarked “I was always only capable of short spurts of focusing, condensing, and the beginning of rather rambling thinking. A thought containing an idea or a possible action would emerge and be forgotten.”
Sack recalled a drawing class he had where the instructor taught the class that “An artist should be able to draw a man falling from a four-story building before he hits the ground.” This stuck with him, and in his most recent exhibition, became Sack’s point of origin.
In his last exhibition at Nel, he worked with broken wooden “Colon” figures which had been intended for trade in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Ivory Coast. He sourced the figures from Baule in West Africa, drawn to them because of the sculptural iconography and its relationship to colonialism.
The colon figures he sourced depicted generic, professional images tourists might be interested in buying, sculptures of traders, professionals, and comic characters. In his artistic exploration, he found that he could flip them upside down and alter their materiality by visually connecting them to traditional Baule masks. This act of cutting the figure became a form of re-figuration. It also became a way to acknowledge the anonymous carvers from Africa.
Sack then turned the figures into clocks by attaching a clock mechanism on each refigured colon figure. Adding another dimension to the already complex refigured pieces. This could reference the looking back at a previous colonial period, but the clocks could also be counting our failing present attempts at decoloniality. Time itself is referenced, it remains an ever-developing thing that we are all bound by, that waits for nobody.
In addition to the colon figure clocks, Sack also worked with cut-offs of Jelutong, which is a protected tree and is often used by puppet makers because of its light yet strong properties, making it easy to carve. He had the urge to carve protective clothing, masks, hats, and finally six casements for clocks and five casements for his tools.
This was not inspired by Covid, but instead by the urge to mask his face from the decolonial skirmishes which became characteristic of the intellectual discourse in the academies while he was working towards a proposal for a master’s degree at the University of the Witwatersrand in recent years.
The casements were the formations or maquettes towards a proposal for this master’s degree at WITS university. He and his family moved to Cape Town and the master’s degree could not develop further now. Instead, Sack worked towards a solo exhibition, which we were proud to host at Nel in November 2022.
In the interim between having moved to Cape Town permanently and the date of the opening of the solo at Nel (a period of over a year), Stephen Sack experimented with a completely new language, that of paint and inflatable weather balloons.
In a series of painted balloons, all in muted tones and occasionally some blue, the rubber was inflated, then deflated at varying degrees, it resembled skin, anatomy, and ageing. This body of work was at once playful but also ultimately tragic or as the artist would say “pathetic.” The balloons immediately lead to reminiscing of childhood, and children’s parties, there is even a number of balloons tied to party whistles, as the air is let out it escapes through these fun whistles, which are a strain on the ears when taken out of its original intended context and instead placed in this format which in so many ways lays bare a vulnerability in a very brief amount of time. The time it takes to exhale. Ultimately these sculptures speak to our mortality - how brief life is, and how inconsequential we all ultimately are.
Oupa Sibeko is an interdisciplinary artist with a foundation in performance. As a younger artist, he was mentored by the esteemed performance artist Robin Orlin. This afforded him a dexterity in the tone of his work, it can range from the deeply charged and highly spiritual to the playful and, at times, satirical approach to his art. This extends itself over many genres. Moving between photography, film, drawing, performance installation, and community-based activism, Sibeko’s work navigates the politics of the body, as an object and a contested site of labour, provoking a deeper sense of understanding of societal issues in its viewers, and directly addressing attitudes towards issues such as toxic masculinity, slavery and our colonial past.
An artist whose name has swiftly grown in the last few years, Sibeko evokes deep thought through his challenging of heteronormative masculinity, and representation of methodologies, such as the act of self-becoming. Sibeko's work utilizes the collaboration between his body and his artistry to create a platform wherein the spirit of movement and expression allows viewers to critically engage with approaches to the body, particularly the black male body.
Though his work deals largely with complex and thought-provoking themes, Sibeko’s artistry heavily invokes the spirit of play, going beyond its associated frivolity, and using it as a channel through which people can engage with each other, and the issues affecting them, in a light, accessible manner. His work acts as an encouragement to people to take charge of the narrative, and rewrite their history. Through play, Sibeko’s work communicates and embodies the knowledge of its artist, acting, in turn, as an imaginative exploration of the world around him. Borrowing elements of performance through the exchange of cultural knowledge and ritualistic communal practices, Sibeko allows his artistic practice to continuously morph and reshape itself with each iteration of his work.
“The body knows things that the mind cannot express and it’s in playing, and being playful, that I can continue becoming. It’s in the act of becoming that my body produces images, artworks, and performances that are never planned but are a result of playing.”
As an independent artist, Sibeko continues to make waves through his contribution to art and education, both teaching and volunteering in educational institutions across Johannesburg, South Africa. He has taken part in group and solo shows in Namibia at the National Art Gallery of Namibia, Wits TPO Gallery, Wits Art Museum, Room Gallery, Melville Art Project, Greatmore Studios in Cape Town, The Freezer Hostel and Theatre in Iceland, and Art Room in Parkhurst. Sibeko was awarded a Mail & Guardian top 200, David Koloane award in 2019, and a Richard Haines all-rounded performer award by Wits University Humanities Faculty in 2015. More recently, Sibeko was shortlisted for the top 17 in the Henrike Grohs Art award 2020.
Emerging in the early 1990s, Belinda Blignaut (b.1968) was one of a group of young Johannesburg-based conceptual and experimental artists whose work served as a commentary on the social and political uncertainty of South Africa, often in challenging or, at the very least, critical terms. Belinda Blignaut's work suggests an urgency for protest and change.
Through varied mediums and series over decades, she has been processing issues around transformation, with the body at the centre of all. Through an engagement with readily available and everyday materials, processing immediate surroundings, she hopes to translate the ways we adapt, a quiet visceral investigation into life and the creative process.
Surfacing in all she does is an exploration into a more fluid world, to actively resist the effects of institutionalized culture. Her work of the past decade takes her interest in materiality as a metaphor for psychological transformation into an ongoing series of sculptural clay vessels, a love affair with earth and organic matter. There are purely intuitive hand-built shapes, often cut and joined, setting out to make ‘an other’ whole. Through these intuitive choices and tactile joining processes, intimacy with the material is experienced. In looking to create from a deeper source, Blignaut began digging her own wild clay, using it unprocessed to allow for chance, unknowns and the natural reactions between the foraged raw materials and minerals. She uses plants as glaze. Through the work Blignaut is interested in translating psychologies of person and place.
On Saturday, the 30th from 11 am to 1 pm, Blignaut premiered her performance art piece Mud Rites inside the Church Street window display of Nel. Her performance work often involves getting literally into the vessel and emerging as if from a chrysalis. It can also, more recently, see her climbing into and under the wet clay, connecting directly with the earth. Blignaut comments:
"This act is a surrender to earth, to a path in my practice, to passion. Rites mark a passage between one state and another. Both art and rites enable us to express the intuitive in a visceral, visible way. Placing my body into earth speaks of transformation, a continual dying and rebirthing, a celebration of a mud connection. I see my body as earth, as dirt, as soil, as loss, as transforming, as finding I’m learning every day from nature: how it grows, how it forms, how it adapts and survives, why it adapts and survives. I remain in awe. Finding and exploring an earth connection has become a guide in learning to work deeper".
Art is a form of research. The things that preoccupy my mind is the material that I make art with. I can play, order and grasp, even if just for a fleeting moment.
My first three solo exhibitions, REFLECTION (2003), REPETITION (2006) and CONSTANT MOVEMENT (2008) consisted of large monochromatic fields of repetitive patterns and reflected my interest in Zen and a mid-life obsession with existential concerns.
With EXCHANGE (2010), most of the patterns morphed into forms that referenced pre-historic organisms, palaentology and a newly discovered interest in the origin of life itself.
In 2013, I turned the focus on my own life and my identity as a man. Relying on memory, personal photographs and literature on the phases of existence, I created a series of figurative paintings which culminated in SAMULACRUM (2014), an exhibition about coming of age, DOOP//INITIATE (2016) which examined initiation processes, group identity and belonging, and WRONG ARCHIVE (2017), a reflection on my experience of National Service and war.
Global political scenarios, recent hashtag movements and other revelations of toxic male behavior have plunged masculinity into a crises and have become an enormous burden to men. The myths of antiquity have always been an inexhaustible source of ethical enquiry, intellectual speculation and artistic renewal and have captivated me since childhood. My new work use classical mythology as storied vehicles through which to explore fundamental sources of origin, being, power and truth.
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The Artwork and Artist’s narrative.
After going through some literature on the subject of guilds and unions, I was keen to meet craftsmen at their place of work. At large factories there were unforeseen difficulties. Usually there is a security guard at the front gate who is the first to meet you. Then there is a secretary at reception, then a PR officer, then a manager, then a general manager, and eventually, the craftsmen. You get passed on from one to the other, which can take months. From gate to craftsmen, each person you encounter in the chain has a repertoire of social interaction that takes a long time to get used to.
None of the idiosyncratic (or complete lack of) social skills of the people in the access chain
matched those of the craftsmen themselves. The first real problem (rather than a challenge)
occurs when coming face-to-face with craftsmen. Craftsmen learn their particular skill by
completing the magical 10 000 hours in various set-ups. One can imagine that a successful
master craftsman in charge of a guild bottega has negotiation skills, able to cut deals with
patrons to ensure liquidity in the firm, such skills are not part of the learning for most
craftsmen, especially in large factories.
To engage craftsmen in large factory circumstances one needs something special. For me it came in the shape of remembering the story of the Trojan Horse tale, with my benevolent ‘horse’ being a skill learnt at art school - drawing. For a period of up to two weeks I would arrive at a factory and draw what I see: people, machines, tools, furniture and architecture. It would take 5 years to complete the 30 drawings.
Exhibited as a body of 30 drawings in 2015, at the 56th Venice Art Biennale on the main exhibition, All the World’s Futures, curated by Okwui Enwezor.
Hereby a small selection:
b. Pretoria, ZA. Education: BA Fine Arts (Wits) H.Dip. Ed PG. (Wits) Lived in Namibia, Italy, Switzerland and Belgium. Currently lives and work in Johannesburg. Schönfeldt is a practising artist who have exhibited in New York (White Box), San Francisco (Centre for the Arts) and Massachusetts (Brandeis University) in the States and in Vancouver Art Gallery in Canada. He has also exhibited in Paris (Gallery d’Esplenade), Rome (Sala 1) Berlin (Haus der Kulturen der Welt), Rotterdam (Netherlands Architecture Institute), Lisbon, Porto (Moagens Harmonica), Glasgow (Tramway), Turin (Castello di Rivolli), Umea (BildMuseet), Sierre (FAC) and Copenhagen in Europe. He represented South Africa at the Venice Biennale and at the Sao Paulo Biennale. He also participated in both Johannesburg Biennales, Gwangju Biennale in 2008 and on the main show Venice Biennale 2015.
In his career he has worked with curators such as: Okwui Enwezor (2015 Venice Biennale), Peter Weibel (past director of the Steirischer Herbst in Graz, Austria), Lauri Firstenberg (Independent curator in New York), Joao Fernandes (curator at the Seralves Foundation in Porto, Portugal), Jean-Yves Jouannais (Independent curator) and Julia Charlton (Wits Art Galleries, Johannesburg) His work is represented in various private and public collections, like MoMa, NY, The Smithsonian, Hangart-7-Sammlung, University of the Witwatersrand Art Gallery, Johannesburg and National Gallery, Cape Town.
Articles on him and his work have been published in The New York Times Magazine, Art Agenda, Flash Art, Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, Frieze and Atlantica. In 2001 he was short-listed for the Daimler Chrysler Award. Read less.
Brett Charles Seiler, b.1994, Zimbabwe. Works and lives in Cape Town South Africa.
Graduated from The Ruth Prowse School of Art in 2015. Solo exhibitions include ‘ Macho Man, Tell It To My Heart ’, 2016 at AVA, Cape Town and
‘ More Scared Of What Was In My Closet Than What Was Underneath
My Bed ’, 2018 at CIRCA gallery, Cape Town. Seiler has also been included in various group
exhibitions including a performance piece with Luvuyo Nyawose titled ‘ Read ing Homophobia ’,
2017, at A4 Foundation curated by Kemang Wa Lehulere and Zipho Dayile.
Seiler works in painting and installation. The use of text and language is critical to Seiler’s work. The poetic and the religious often combine in what read as something from the confessional. He deals with romantic gestures and sexual interactions.
Seiler’s work dives into historical gay modes of communication and conduct. Bringing forward a collective memory of gay rights movements and focusing on the sexual oppression of gay men. One is left with a sense of longing, distance and nostalgia.
Seiler also brings performance, work where process is key and acts of intervention into play in much of his narratives. Works that ‘queer’ the gallery space, including writings and imagery directly on the gallery walls – this almost as a revolt or at the very least disobedience.
Being from Zimbabwe, Seiler knows what it is like growing up in a country that although critical of colonialism, elects to bide by colonial homophobic laws as well as the homophobia encountered in day to day living. His work seeks to highlight gay rights or the lack thereof within this context by focussing on punishment metered, education, the media and the current status quo with regards equality and human rights.
Brett Charles Seiler, b.1994, Zimbabwe. Works and lives in Cape Town South Africa. Graduated from The Ruth Prowse School of Art in 2015. Solo exhibitions include ‘ Macho Man, Tell It To My Heart ’, 2016 at AVA, Cape Town and ‘ More Scared Of What Was In My Closet Than What Was Underneath My Bed ’, 2018 at CIRCA gallery, Cape Town. Seiler has also been included in various group exhibitions including a performance piece with Luvuyo Nyawose titled ‘ Read ing Homophobia ’, 2017, at A4 Foundation curated by Kemang Wa Lehulere and Zipho Dayile. Read less.
The work of Luan Nel (b.1971), though in recent years characterised by masterful paintings of the natural world, in fact varies widely in medium and content. His practice is primarily idea-driven: The symbolic potential of his subjects in combination with ambiguous titles serve as structure within which Nel conveys a message (or multiple messages), employing whichever medium best carries the concept. With this expansive framework, Nel is free to explore themes of transience, identity, the significant of the everyday and the aesthetic - both on a personal level and on a wider, collective scale. His work has remained compelling for over two decades, earning him awards, international residencies and representation in numerous collections
An artist, writer and curator, Luan Nel has a BA Fine Arts degree and a higher diploma in education from the University of the Witwatersrand.
In 1994 he won the judges prize in the New Signatures Competition.
In 1998 and 1999 he was awarded participation at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam under the guidance of Luc Tuymans, Narcisse Tordoir and Matt Mullican amongst others. In 1999 he also participated in a research residency at the Dutch Institute in Rome.
He has participated in various exhibitions including Lustwarande: Pleasure Garden in Tilburg, The Netherlands, alongside the likes of Louise Bourgeois and Michaelangelo Pistoletto. Solo exhibitions include Still Life at the Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, and Twitter at Everard Read in Cape Town. In 2017 he had his solo exhibition Diction at CIRCA Cape Town. The same year he did the photographic installation as solo for Toffee gallery in Darling. In 2018 he had a solo at Fried Gallery in Pretoria titled S.O.S The Poseidon adventure.
His artworks are in private, as well as public and corporate collections including the Johannesburg Art Gallery, SABC, University of the Witwatersrand, Gauteng Legislature, Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, Smithsonian, Spier, Hollard, Sasol, Ellerman House and KPMG.
In 2013 he was Young Curator for the Aardklop National Arts Festival with the group exhibition Weerberig - Weather Report.
With 'The Poseidon Adventure: S.O.S' Luan Nel places some of his Instagram images of the landscape in front of his studio in relation to the landscape painting and maps of early colonial explorers. Certainly these images act as a kind of subjective form of evidence of what is in front of Nel every
Of this Nel is all too aware and states:
“I am cognizant of the tradition of landscape painting in which a project such as this clearly follows. These include representations of the land as seen by the early explorers from Europe into Africa and later the colonial paintings that in many ways staked claim to land. My current paintings hinge on this ‘fake news’ from our colonial and explorer past”.
Nel’s own views of having a vista differ fundamentally from that of the early colonialists. He believes that what is in front of him also belongs to anybody else once he vacates the space and it is occupied by another. For him the landscape belongs to no-one in perpetuity, and yet, exactly this is the case it belongs to us all in the moment.
“I focused on the moment just before dawn or soon thereafter. In most of the work, the light featured is a reflected light due to mist. I used metallic to simulate the reflective quality one encounters in mist as the sun is dawning. The images are not clear – some are focused and others become vague leading to very atmospheric works where a play between light and dark takes place. These misty mornings are a common sight in Cape Town in winter. I draw on them as a metaphor about our relation to our future and our country. They might stir a sense of dread or possibly melancholy, they could be hopeful but the one thing they aren’t are definitive answers.”
For this body of work, Nel’s format remains square in keeping with the default settings on his Instagram account (@luan_nel).
This is a scale model of the Dromedaris, the ship with which Jan van Riebeeck sailed into Table Bay in 1652. It has been painted and lacquered. It exists in two ways.
Firstly as installation suspended with gut hanging from the rafters or ceiling. Casting a shadow play onto the surrounding walls.
The ship is a meter long and a meter tall and thirty centimeters across
The images of skulls painted onto the sails evokes a Ghost Ship. The waters around the Cape are treacherous and hundreds of vessels lie beneath the waters in Table Bay. The skulls on sails also remains synonymous with vessels occupied by pirates.
Installation using fabric, wood, painted flags and an undercarriage constructed from tables and poles The flags are a British military Jack and the earlier iteration of the V.O.C. (Dutch East India Company) flag. The intention is to evoke a ship going under in rocky waters.
"I tend to work in a postmodern paradigm. I often lift. My sources vary. I do not choose to mine only one thought but multiple ideas. And within each strand there usually lies a multiplicity of meaning. Sometimes the work is more pointed and other times it can even come across as random.
How to not simply get seduced by the paint, or too captivated by beauty. I can’t always manage to walk this tightrope well. I often get seduced by beauty, the paint sometimes just feels too good. I am weak. But at my best, I usually attempt to create some conversation with the viewer that when leaving the art something hopefully lingers, if not an actual sentence or question then at least a feeling, anything from exuberance to dread. It should all be part of my language otherwise I would be speaking a kind of pidgin. SWELL sees me return to the nautical. This is an area I started investigating about four years ago. I looked at the early galleon ships the Dutch used to get to the Cape for example and later the English vessels. I especially looked at the ships that didn’t make it. Hundreds of wrecks lie in Table Bay. We sometimes forget how dangerous these endeavours were. The idea for Swell is to slant the floor giving the illusion of being on a ship during stormy weather (this can lead to motion sickness and nausea.) It could also represent a giant wave, like a tsunami, as it swells through a space. On the floor some furniture and select memorabilia. It needs to signal a space with both modern elements, nice furniture but also some older pieces, some colonial pieces. I try to minimally signal an eclectic space but not from a brochure, or a decorating floor room, it must indicate that there are owners and they have a past. Chairs have been sat upon. Hopefully the viewer gets the sense it has a ‘white’ history, one of privilege. Not necessarily ostentatious. I want people to enter the space. To aid in facilitating this I placed a ‘lure’ at the wall apposing the entrance. I placed a painting from our collection. Thereby including my own identity in the suggested narrative. It is a watercolour by Maude Sumner titled - Princess Olga of Greece. To me it is a thing of beauty but it also speaks to white privilege and history. This is at its core an example of ‘disruption’ As of late this term has been somewhat overused but usually in relation to performative art. My work involves no artist performing any act whatsoever. It relies on the architecture and suggested narrative to illicit a primal reaction from the viewers. The audience/viewers thereby become the active ingredient in this piece of disruption. They experience the work and that sense of disruption and of being out of balance is the metaphor to the place many in this privileged arena find themselves in. Another important aspect of Swell is for the audience to exert a small amount of effort, to experience a slight ‘struggle’ (with a small ‘s’ ) when walking towards Princess Olga. This because of the incline. It is that much harder to reach the other end of the room now. This struggle as apposed to The Struggle is an important aspect of this disruption. It is not about how difficult white folk who come to galleries to view art currently have it, instead it is about how relatively little effort is required to become more aware of one’s station and privilege. My work is not an attempt at ‘guilting’ viewers or belittling anybody. It is about being or becoming self-aware by entering a familiar narrative but having it disrupted. It is important to me to not be insulting the now participant viewer or frightening them with violence or shocking them into some completely useless state by indulging in what has been called ‘poverty porn’ and the like. I aim for a more nuanced approach not meant to shame but rather to heighten awareness of one’s place in the current. This may be a start"
Odidi Mfenyana fills a unique space within the cultural fabric of contemporary Cape Town. At turns he is Shaman, educator activist, creator of cultural platforms Bushwaacking.
Actor in various productions, television and theatre - Brett Baily’s BIG DADA, The rise and fall of Idi
Amin. This saw the director in collaboration with Mfenyana create the character Odidiva.
Odidiva became a vehicle for much performative work for Mfenyana outside the initial production and independently. Odidiva is active to this day. Through her he voices the political, issues around inequality, hate, Xenophobia and racism. This ‘drag’ persona is so much more than a drag show, she often is asked to MC a production whilst at the same time make the viewer/audience more aware of the nuances of societal differences and the political landscape of South Africa
Mfenyana is keen on the collaborative process and often elects to work with all types of creatives like photographer Zanele Muholi and in artist Luan Nel’s First Ladies Club
In 2017 Odidiva curated by Zanele Muholi and Rosa-Lee Goldberg (Creative Director of PERFORMA 17 New York Bienalle) lead an entourage of Queer South African Artists to performances all over New York City culminating at the iconic Stonewall Inn, birth of the Gay Resistance, and PRIDE.
In 2014 as I conceived the urban dance form Bushwaacking as a satirical protest at US pop cultural expropriation of South African urban culture and as a solution to the problem of LGBTI youth disenfringement from popular South African youth culture
while tackling the challenge of our youth
The performance art is Odidi Mfenyana, taking a feather his father, an Anglican priest, as The High
Priestess Odidiva of BUSHWAACKING. Referencing the Afrocentric hybrid vibrance and reverence
of services at St George's Cathedral under Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the zenith of The Struggle
The Anglican precision of austere pomp & ceremony blended with slick oration of an Evangelical Prophet/Pastorchurch services and infused with the soulshaking rhythms of Traditional Ancestral religious ceremony. BUSHWAACKING through spoken-word storytelling, slam-poetry, stand-up comedy, song and dance brings a satirical, ironically witty, narratives of the African Queer view of life, love, politics, religion and sex from Cape Town, South Africa to the world.
Odidi Mfenyana was born in 1978 in Cape Town. He is the son of the Bishop of Nyanga and lived in Crossroads, a site of political unrest throught the Struggle and his formative years.
He attended both Bishops School for Boys and Pinelands High School.
From 1996 to 2001 he formed and was part of a Rock band Spare Mary with Jesse Langeman under the guidance of music producer James Langeman.
After High School Mfenyana attended The Cape Academy of Dramatic Arts.
He entered the performing arts industry thereafter and soon this grew to include other forms of expression including music, dance and art activism.