1 October - 5 November 2020
“I’m a story-teller and make work to tell stories – whether true or made-up. At the moment, I prefer lingering somewhere between the two.
While making this work, I was thinking of a place I call home. The feeling you get when you arrive at a place/space where everything, right there in that present moment, is perfect and you know you are meant to there. I am meant to be here. This marks the beginning of many beautiful things yet to come and yet to be experienced. The place/space that I have created is not utopian, but rather exists by way of finding or accessing it.
What I’m trying to achieve with the work, is create an experience of this space, place, or ‘home’; whether in a literal or figurative form. An environment where, on arrival, I remove umthwalo wam (*my baggage), rest, and seek solace. Where I shout at the top of my lungs, “I’m home!” While weeping.
Somewhere, something in me is in pain. I just can’t pin this it to one thing. This is my way of finding healing.”
– Asemahle Ntlonti
WHATIFTHEWORLD is pleased to present Nothwala impahlana, Asemahle Ntlonti’s first solo presentation with the gallery. In this exhibition, Ntlonti recreates a personal dreamscape; a sacred space she enters for healing and cleansing. Her series of intuitive paintings, and the immersive environment they create, are an expression of joy, seeking of peace, and expulsion of pain.
Unraveled green polypropylene vegetable sacks are Ntlonti’s primary material, and came from an interpretation of the artist’s dreams where she repeatedly saw herself collecting these objects. Ntlonti took this as a cue and began gathering the material, not knowing what to do with it until a follow-up dream advised her. In the dream, Ntlonti picked up green, purple, yellow, and blue bags, which then guided her works. Ntlonti’s exchange with this medium is one of empathy; she instills purpose into this seemingly mundane, disposable packaging. She painstakingly unweaves the sacks; disentangles the strands; punctures the canvas; threads the fibre through; knots each one at the end, and then burns it sealed. There is something poignantly ritualistic in the finality of this last fastening gesture.
This offering of solace is in some ways a vigil both for the material and the artist. It is in these simple acts of poetry that Ntlonti’s work finds its affect. Rather than trying to dictate the narrative, she allows the artworks to do the talking. Ntlonti explains, “I speak to the work, I ask ‘What do you want? I am just a vessel, now what do you want? I sit in silence in front of it. And then something will tell me, ‘Okay, come, do this. Now make that mark, make that mark.’” There is humility in this uncertainty and an authenticity in not always knowing what to do, but knowing when to stop. To rest, to give thanks to what has already been done and intuit a way forward. And to allow yourself to be guided by a force much bigger than oneself. Ntlonti’s practice also makes room for error. When Ntlonti burns her canvases too much, she repairs them with patches made from sacks. Using Sunlight green soap as the base shade for her works, she adds and removes as she sees fit, washing out the soap when unsatisfied with its vibrancy or texture.
This ‘washing’ is a reference to the spiritual-cleansing, or crossing over, that happens through soap as a medium and spiritual guide. The word ‘paradise’ comes up a lot when discussing Ntlonti’s newest body of work. Ntlonti situates this paradise in nature, in flowing waterfalls, willow trees, overgrown swamps, and an overwhelming sense of life-giving ‘green’. The mass and intensity of nature brings her closer to her people, ancestors, and a higher being. Frequently, she refers back to her inherited home and land in the Eastern Cape, referencing the colours of local bird species in her paintings.
Ntlonti’s seeking out of peace is, after all, a response to her own desire for freedom from trauma and political violence. Ntlonti expresses this series as an act of self-love, as: “A place I know and have access to every day, whether it exists or does not exist. Where I can find calmness and healing, and all the things I don’t get on a daily basis because of life, and because everything and everyone are just moving about.”
Text by Lindsey Raymond
Born in 1993 in Cape Town, South Africa, Asemahle Ntlonti graduated from the University of Cape Town’s Michaelis School of Fine Art with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2017, where she majored in sculpture.
She was recently awarded the 2018 Young Female Residency by The Project Space, a non-profit cultural institution founded by the late Benon Lutaaya in Johannesburg, South Africa. In 2019 Ntlonti attended a residency at the South African Foundation for Contemporary Art (SAFFCA) in Knysna and Saint Emilion, France.
Ntlonti’s work has been exhibited widely in South Africa and abroad. In 2019, her work was included in several group exhibitions, including The Female Line, SMAC Gallery; Sans, Open 24HRS; and Unresolved Category, Gallery MOMO in Cape Town, South Africa.
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