Umnqweno // Silence and Invisibility are Made Loud and Visible

It was Susan Sontag who remarked that ‘to live is an aggression’, speaking to the extent to which aggression operates as part of the normal rhythm of living. She notes; “You’re involved with aggression on all levels when you move around the world, you’re occupying space that other people can’t occupy, you’re stepping on flora, fauna and little creatures as you walk”. As much as to live is an aggression—to live is to constantly be aggrieved—to be pained and perhaps even to be traumatised; by memory, history and a past that is not ever quite resolved. Despite this sobering fact of life, we’re still able to wake up and create. And sometimes, getting closer to these ways in which we are pained and aggrieved allows us to make things that are thoughtful and things that begin to walk us towards healing. Nobukho Nqaba’s work confronts aggression and pain and begins to move us towards healing and celebration.

As part of the exhibition; Blue is the Warmest Colour,  Nqaba has created an installation piece titled Umnqweno. The installation uses worn blue worker’s overalls tied together at different points and hung against a wall. The work is an interrogation of worker’s experiences in South Africa, many of whom are rendered invisible and often stripped of their dignity due to low wages and poor working conditions. These overalls (objects, materials) do not speak—silence is an imperative condition of their existence. But it is in that silence that they achieve their goal, which is to probe and to unsettle. Through this process of unsettling, silence and invisibility are made loud and visible. The blue overalls, hollowed and emptied out, are not only remnants of experiences lived, but they also become expressions of healing and a celebration of those who are often forgotten.

Umnqweno can be read in the context of Nqaba’s general practice where she explores points of fragility, precarity and impermanence. In 2019, she presented an exhibition at the Zeitz MOCAA titled Izicwangciso Zezethu (we make plans), where she reflected on her childhood and upbringing. Materiality is an important component of her practice; she often uses blankets, plastic bag and overalls to work through the complexities of her own life and that of others around her.

Umnqweno is on view at the Bkhz Studio space at 41 Sir Lowry Road, Woodstock, Cape Town until February 28th.

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