The South African artist Nicholas Hlobo has spent his life and career navigating the spaces in-between. As a child of Apartheid growing up in South Africa, he was exposed to the various ways that people define themselves as one thing or another—one race, religion, or ethnicity. Early on, he sought creative ways to expand those categories using a combination of fine artistry and traditional craftsmanship.
In an exclusive interview for Art21’s episode “Johannesburg” in 2018, Hlobo explained the title of his most recent exhibition at Sweden’s Uppsala Art Museum: “Zawelela Ngale.” The two words refer to the idea of crossing to the other side. “In the world, there’s debates around boundaries,” he says, laughing. “America is hoping to build its own wall.”
For Hlobo, though, the ‘other side’ is more than just a physical space. “Going across could be a psychological or spiritual crossing, or intellectual going across to the other side of the field,” he explains. In his works, which incorporate performance, textiles, and sculpture, he traverses the literal and figurative boundaries of what is considered masculine or feminine, traditional or modern, art or craft.
In a new show of Hlobo’s work opening at the SCAD Museum in Savannah, Georgia, the title, “Unyukelo,” translates directly to “The Ladder.” As a symbol, the ladder also represents crossing, as a bridge between two places or ideas.
“Nicholas Hlobo: Unyukelo” is on view at the SCAD Museum of Art through July 7, 2019.
Credits: Nicholas Hlobo
Images: Nicholas Hlobo