Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi was born in New York City and finished her art studies abroad before settling in South Africa. Inhabiting the role of a multiform artist, she works predominantly in film, performance art, and painting. She has noted before that she regards her paintings as a footnote to her practice. Her architectural paintings present a historical analysis of city spaces that she has occupied over the years.
With a keen focus on establishing a narrative in her work, identity and belonging are two topics she explores in her work as she feels that these are concerns that she faces in her own life. Thenjiwe’s mother is a historian that subsequently led her to an interest in accessing her own history and the history of the places she lives and has lived before.
Expressing that her work is rooted in looking at moments in history, her practice began analysing the architecture of Johannesburg and how its current and former inhabitants have with the passing of time, both remembered and forgotten who they are. Buildings have the ability to live for a long time and therefore have specific memories attached to them impacting the way a city is viewed. They therefore act as physical reminders of history.
Thenjiwe’s architectural investigation through paint has a particular interest in the history of apartheid and its effects on the lives of South African’s today. The titles of Thenjiwe’s architectural paintings convey strong emotions towards certain historical monuments from spaces that she has inhabited with titles such as ‘What Is It That You Keep Forgetting (After the Palais De Justice)’ a painting from 2013 that references a law court building in Paris. Her titles are an indication of how she is questioning the relationship that people have with certain building in their surrounds as well as the relationship she herself has. She asks her viewers why they are forgetting their history, or why they choose to remember it the way they do.
Stark flatness, pale skylines, muddy whites, greyish blacks and few colour pops within her architectural paintings act as an identifier of Thenjiwe’s hand. These haunting images that lack a human element simply show identifiable buildings taken over by foliage. These works ask what will happen to these buildings in the future which can be justified by looking at the title of ‘Emergent Phenomena 1 (After SABC)’ 2017, clearly a work speaking about the meaning of the SABC in contemporary South Africa. This can also be seen when looking at ‘In Plain Sight (After the Tripode)’ completed in 2013 that I believe makes reference to the Tripode building in France that was demolished. Is Thenjiwe then predicting or anticipating the fall of the SABC building you might ask? Perhaps, or perhaps she is referring to a desire for restructuring within government broadcasted television.
Thenjiwe’s architectural work shows many similarities in style to ‘A Bigger Splash’ 1967 by the artist David Hockney that also carries a strong architectural focus. Elements such as flatness and the use of a muddy colour pallet as well as small colour pops correspond with these works by Thenjiwe.
Her architectural range of paintings asks us about our past and how we view and remember it as well as address issues surrounding identity and belonging. These are concerns that are focal to Thenjiwe as she comes from a mixed parentage and has lived in many places in her life. Her personal opinion is also conveyed in these works with the use of composition that emphasizes isolation as well as the coupling of loaded titles for her works.