sabato 2 agosto 2008


Thembinkosi Goniwe
By Sue Williamson

'Ritual', the body of work currently being presented by Thembinkosi Goniwe at the AVA bears all the marks of work prepared for a Masters Degree at the Michaelis School of Fine Art. First of all, there is the subject matter, in which the student generally attacks an aspect of the construction of identity or gender or discrimination, a subject which will always require a number of historical and cultural references. One pictures the student hard at work in the university library researching the subject. Then, there is the student's progress through his or her chosen subject - the earlier work often seeming strained as the student grapples to make the necessary point and get going. In this phase, one can often detect signs of too-direct influences absorbed from lecturers. Then sometimes, as is evident in Goniwe's presentation, near the end there is a breakthrough, light at the end of the tunnel. The student shakes free of the restrictive earlier work and makes it clear that an artist is indeed emerging.

Goniwe's subject is Ulwaluko, the Xhosa male initiation rite in South Africa, in which a youth must be ritually circumscribed and instructed in the ways of manhood in order to be received and perceived as a man. It is a ceremony which, deeply as it is inscribed in the culture, is increasingly being questioned by those who must undergo it. As this is being written, Goniwe is in Philadelphia, preparing to deliver a paper on December 4 on the subject at a conference entitled Art in Service of Constructing Masculinity: Male Initiation in Africa. Part of Goniwe's presentation will be a video in which the artist reenacts the ritual of having the foreskin cut away from the penis, and strong will be the stomachs of the American audience if viewers do not wish to run from their seats rather than witness this moment. The video continues to show the initiate, smeared in the traditional white clay, stretching out his hands to shield his face, gazing in a small mirror, hestitantly undergoing the self doubts and fears which attend this period. It is a powerful re-enactment. Goniwe's video is not on exhibition at the AVA. Instead, blow ups of video stills impressively fill one wall in a strong display which I have little doubt will find its way on to one international exhibition or another within the next year.

On another wall at the AVA are a series of blowups of mock magazine covers, in which the initiate plays cover boy. While these seem to draw too heavily on another African artist, Ike¢ Ude¢'s Cover Girl 1994-5 series, they are nonetheless attractive pieces, well in the contemporary art mode.

Goniwe has undergone his artistic Ulwaluko. So far, so good. It will be interesting to see how he develops.

The show closes November 27

AVA, 35 Church Street
Ph: (021) 424-4348
Fax: (021) 423-2037
Gallery hours: Mon - Fri, 10am - 5pm, Sat 10am - 12pm

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