Since the beginning of his young career, Simphiwe Ndzube has been exploring the interplay between the real and the magical, stitching together personal accounts and historical memories to give life to his creations. Born in 1990 in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, and living and working in Los Angeles, Ndzube constructs imaginary pocket universes as a way to frame larger conflicts about racial identity and histories, political power and struggles, and globalization and freedom. His outsized vivid canvases and dynamic sculptural installations oscillate between the beautiful and the incongruous, producing remarkable visual contrasts that captivate viewers.
Growing up in the post-apartheid era, Ndzube frequently draws from the realities of racial segregation and political unrest that have affected the lives of Black South Africans since the 1940s, as well as the ongoing consequences of colonialism and cultural imperialism in his home country. Oracles of the Pink Universe (through October 10, 2021) is Ndzube’s first US museum show and represents an expansion of the artist’s visual exploration for a mythological place, drawing from his personal experiences, imagination, and art historical references.
Merging the Fantastical and the Historical
A diversity of characters populates the Pink Universe, including Dondolo, the Witch Doctor’s Assistant. Dondolo is a flamboyant figure, dressed in sartorial clothes, and is part human and part animal. He represents a mine laborer as he carries a blue precious stone in a wheelbarrow, a reference to diamond mining and land exploitation in South Africa.
The stonelike object with spikes was borrowed directly from Hieronymous Bosch’s painting The Garden of Earthly Delights (1490–1500) as a way to subvert traditional art historical narratives. More specifically, Ndzube’s painting addresses the ongoing consequences of colonialism and cultural imperialism in South Africa by merging the
fantastical and the historical.
Ndzube includes collages of his own hands and eyes in the painting, implicating himself in it as an autobiographical gesture, while leaving his mark as the creator of the work and of the Pink Universe. Water and fire clash between Dondolo and the idyllic landscape of the background. Standing on his hooves, Dondolo is caught between paradise and hell, the rural and the industrial, oscillating between joy and desolation. Like other characters in the exhibition, he exists in a contradictory landscape. As Dondolo gazes out at the viewer, displaying his elegant outerwear, he
simultaneously performs the heavy labor task of mining, being the assistant to—and exploited by—the very colonial structure that he fights against. Despite being part of a subjugated system, Dondolo offers us hope and resilience through his assertive stance and hand gesture, communicating a hidden language that indicates agency in the fictitious world that he inhabits.
As a tactic for moving away from the magic and, in turn, alluding to the real world, Ndzube often incorporates materials that possess historical baggage, such as secondhand clothing, found objects, and accessories. These items serve as references to reality, connecting to viewers’ own bodies, and grounding them in the factual world. With the presence of elements, such as the bicycle wheel and Dondolo’s garments, Ndzube’s fabricated universe becomes palpable, relatable, and familiar. He invites the audience to navigate the duality between the tangible and the imaginary, at times taking spectators out of their comfort zone to a fictional place where they can begin to explore larger issues related to race, identity, and the making of history.
Complementing the recently acquired The Bloom of the Corpse Flower, which represents the beginning of Ndzube’s journey into the Pink Universe, Dondolo, the Witch Doctor’s Assistant, explores the complications of control and power, central themes to Ndzube’s overall practice. We are thrilled to have both artworks in our collection!