Immediately upon entering the exhibition Simphiwe Ndzube: Oracles of the Pink Universe visitors become immersed in a black box. A pink light illuminates the entryway as brightly colored, mixed-media paintings, sculptures, and a mural emerge in the theatrical space. As visitors begin to orient themselves into Ndzube’s universe—an otherworldly place with a diverse cast of characters—a soundscape emanates from the gallery’s speakers.
The nearly 20-minute-long original soundscape made by Ndzube in collaboration with Thabo K. Makgolo and Zimbini Makweth is titled The Fantastic Ride to Gwadana and features verses spoken in both Sotho and isiXhosa. The score is by Elvis Sibeko Studio and Inganam Batala. In the soundscape, music and poetry collide to explore the realm of magical realism. Ndzube originally created this music for a previous show of his, The Fantastic Ride to Gwadana at Stevenson Gallery in South Africa. Although it is included in other presentations of Ndzube’s work, it serves to connect the different universes that Simphiwe creates, linking the “Pink Universe” to others.
Much like the two- and three-dimensional works in the exhibition, Ndzube’s The Fantastic Ride to Gwadana is layered with meanings and compositional elements. While Ndzube forms his paintings with gradations of pigment, pieces of fabric, and collaged photographic fragments, the soundscape, too, reflects this layered approach with musical shifts, sustained noises, and an amalgamation of ambiguous and recognizable sounds.
Gwadana references a place in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, which has associations with witches. Ndzube explained that in that region: “Black elderly women have been subjected to baseless accusations of witchcraft. The soundscape goes on to convey experiences around the loss of life and how it affects those left behind.”
The soundscape not only enhances the meaning of the work presented, but it also affects visitors’ connection to the artworks, and the physical space around them.
Viewers may be left wondering if the person’s voice that they hear is that of one of Ndzube’s fictional characters or if the sound of rushing water relates to the painting Whispering Landscape. In this way, visitors become temporary inhabitants of the universe, processing new sights and sounds much like arriving in a new city for the first time.
The incorporation of both sound and music in this exhibition allows visitors to consider more deeply what they have learned about the “Pink Universe,” make stronger connections to the works of art, and, in doing so, engage their imagination.