Simphiwe Ndzube


Simphiwe Ndzube’s work is characterised by a fundamental interplay between objects, media and two-dimensional surfaces; stitching together a subjective account of black experience in post-apartheid South Africa. Through juxtaposing the strong cultural and socio-political significance of various found objects, and shifting between mediums and processes (including painting, collage and assemblage), Ndzube explores a diversity of contexts, memories and cultural exchanges which converge in our overlapping societies. His work deals with issues of wounds, fragmentation and seeming hopelessness in order to transcend towards notions of healing and repair.

In Ndzube’s work, articles of clothing and fabric become a skin, bound together by thread and combined with found objects; simultaneously revealing and concealing forms. The pulling of the thread through the fabric often leads to a distortion of these forms which points to the underlying violence of puncturing and suturing disjointed parts to form a whole. The act of stitching forms a therapeutic and meditative process but, as with the scarring left by surgical stitches, it also serves as reminder of past traumas and wounds.

In some instances, the bodies appear amputated or distorted. Here Ndzube refers to a context of hindrance and the physical violence of the genocides committed against black bodies both during and after the advent of European Imperialism. Through subtle distortions of the human figure, Ndzube explores the fragility of the human body and the value assigned to human life. The masses of forms which appear in these works suggest bundles of baggage and belongings as well as piles of bodies. While some of the figures within the work imply a loss of power, they are also presented as dynamic and fearless; striving for political, social and cultural liberation. The character of the dandy emerges as a rebellious presence, undermining the expectations and classifications which are forced upon him regarding who and what he is allowed to become.

The second-hand clothes, garments and textiles found in Ndzube’s work come with a very specific history and context, showing visible wear and tear from their previous owners (particularly the shoes). Originally intended as donations from first world countries, they are shipped to Africa in large bales by multinational charity organizations and sold to locals in bulk. ‘Died in Europe’, ‘dead white men’s clothes’, ‘salaula’ or ‘amavuku- vuku’ are some of the colloquialisms used to refer to these second-hand clothes in places such as Ghana, Zambia and South Africa.

In this sense, Africa serves as a sort of repository for the second hand clothing trade. Exporters and local retailers turn a substantial profit from cheap used clothing donated from abroad but devastate the existing textile industries in the process. Together with the emergence of the Chinese textile market, this second-hand industry has led to the downsizing of local businesses that are unable to compete on a financial level, leaving thousands out of jobs and vulnerable to exploitation. This surplus of European goods results in a complex shifting of the definitions and perceptions of African cultural identities influenced by the encroachment of western material trends.

Selected Solo Exhibitions

2017 Bhabharosi, Nicodim Gallery, Los Angeles
2016 Becoming - WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town

Selected Group Exhibitions

2017 Everyday Anomaly - WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town
2016 #theopening, Greatmore Studios, Cape Town
The Art of Disruption, Iziko National Gallery, Cape Town
Women's Work, IZIKO South African National Gallery, Cape Town
Dear Europa ... - WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town
2015 Kasi-2-Kasi Public Art Festival, Cape Town
Remaking Place, Gordon Institute for Centre and Creative Arts, Cape Town
Pooling Our Secrets, SMAC Gallery, Cape Town
But He Doesn’t Have Anything On!, Commune 1, Cape Town
2014 Re-visiting Sites, The Hostel
Emergence, Ebony, Cape Town
2010 See, Create, The Annex, Cape Town
Peter Clarke and Friends at the Frank Joubert Art Centre, Cape Town
2009 Rights of a Child, The Annex, Cape Town