Embroidery on rubber. Ribbons and leather on canvas. Wool, lace, tulle and string. They’re not the traditional media most of us associate with high art, but these materials are the signatures of some of the most exciting artists working in South Africa today.
Our June issue explored the work of, among others, Athi-Patra Ruga, Igshaan Adams, Pierre Fouché and Nicholas Hlobo. Here we delve deeper into the unique textures of their work, as well as that of some of their textile-transforming contemporaries.
It took more than a decade of working with found objects before Still Bay-based textile artist Hannalie Taute started specialising in embroidery on rubber.
She explains, ‘In 2011 I started making toys from inner tubes (rubber) and since then my studio practise developed from these small toys to embroidered large-scale wall hangings. With these embroidered wall hangings, I am experimenting and incorporating found lace and textiles. Intermittently I still dive into smaller scale pieces where the surfaces are much more controllable. Working with rubber doesn’t restrict me to work on two-dimensional pieces and each piece sparks new ideas to explore.’
Hannalie is currently working towards a solo exhibition opening in September 2016 at Fried Contemporary.
Going by the name Splendid, Mark Rautenbach works with materials that are as carefully considered as his moniker, itself a statement about unfixing polarities. The ‘yarn’ he uses to knit together his tapestries – Mark has been knitting since the age of eight – is often made from the torn strips of educational documents, a comment on the fragile state of our own educational system.
One of his projects, The Educator’s New Clothes, involves taking his needles to various places, public and remote, to knit and most importantly to engage in what he calls ‘a travelogue of conversations on education and learning’.
Barend de Wet
Barend de Wet’s video montage piece, Projected Identities, explores textiles in their most traditional form: as the very clothes we drape over our bodies. It’s a project that examines our perceptions of self as well as our perceptions of others relative to clothing and its creation of a ‘persona’, a notion whose boundaries de Wet has always challenged. Ultimately he brings to the fore not only questions around his own identity but around the societal constructs of identity too.
Aside from this textile-focused undertaking, de Wet is also well known for his knitted ‘paintings’ featuring acrylic yarn in dazzling hues.
Is it fashion, is it performance or is it art? Umtata-born Athi-Patra Ruga is an artist who defies definition with works ranging from the over-the-top and excessive to the sombre and austere. In exploring identity through the textiles that he uses, Ruga’s work doesn’t draw neat conclusions but rather creates hybridised grey zones (albeit frequently in the loudest colours).
He was recently included in the book Younger Than Jesus, a directory of over 500 of the best artists worldwide under the age of 33.
A graduate of the Ruth Prowse School of Art in Cape Town, Igshaan Adams has recently put on the solo shows Parda at blank projects (2015) and Please Remember, which made up part of his residency at Tale of a Tub, Rotterdam (2015).
His signature works are abstract geometric tapestries, but textiles even feature in the artist’s performance pieces – at a 2014 Grahamstown National Arts Festival performance, Adams asked his father to bathe him and shroud him in three layers of cloth, reminiscent of the Islamic funereal tradition, and so, through his own symbolic death, exploring his identity in both his family and in his faith.
Pierre Fouché is an artist best known for his intricately embroidered lace panels, which reflect his interest in the designation of needlework to a female labour force and the unravelling of the gendered implications of his medium of choice. And it’s by no means an easy craft: Fouché can spend up to 15 hours a day in the arduous fashion of the lace-makers of days gone by. To give an example, the piece His Foam White Arms took an astounding 470 hours to complete (good thing Fouché has been quoted as saying that he enjoys these ‘endurance tests’).
Contrasting masculinity and femininity is a recurring theme in Cape Town-born artist Nicholas Hlobo’s work. The winner of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award in 2009, Hlobo creates sprawling sculptural pieces that incorporate rubber inner tubes, ribbon, organza, lace and found objects.
His most recent solo shows included an exhibition at New York’s Lehmann Maupin and he also had work on display at Beelden aan Zee museum in The Hague.
Pick up our June 2016 issue to read art critic Mary Corrigall’s exploration of how local creatives are using textiles and the language of fashion in their work.