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Exhibition offers an autobiographical reflection of the upbringing of artist Nobukho Nqaba
Nobukho Nqaba, Untitled, 2012. LightJet photographic print, 84,1 x 118,9 cm. Photo: Nobukho Nqaba.

CAPE TOWN.- The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa opened a solo exhibition titled Izicwangciso Zezethu…. This is an autobiographical reflection of the childhood home and upbringing of Cape Town artist, Nobukho Nqaba and has been situated in Zeitz MOCAA’s project space, the Dusthouse and its adjoining room.

Nqaba’s work is specific to the Dusthouse, a smaller and more unassuming structure when compared to the forty-two monolith cylinders that once formed the grain silo building and now house the museum. Positioned to the side of the building, the original purpose of the Dusthouse was to filter the air of the adjoining industrial silos through a vacuum system. This helped to protect the workers’ lungs and kept the building from exploding. In the Dusthouse, Nqaba has used overalls to commemorate the invisible men and women, such as those who worked in the silos and farms, from whose labour we daily benefit.

Highlighting the precariousness of daily life within an informal settlement, Nqaba uses chequered ‘China’ bags, plain grey blankets, and worn overalls to point to the fragility, impermanence and inner resolve necessitated by circumstance.

Many people migrated to Nqaba’s community in the small Western Cape town of Grabouw with bundled up ambitions and modest possessions all packed tightly into these plastic ‘China’ bags.

The notion of home became associated with meagre living conditions, one or two pieces of furniture and a few paraphernalia set in the room against the walls. The precarious walls were thin outlines or borders; they were a temporary testimony of a family’s presence before they had to move again. Together with the objects they housed, they become a testimony of their existence.

The sudden announcement ‘Kuyatshaaa!’ (there is fire) was often followed by the routine dash to gather all the important documents and a sudden stampede as everyone fled to the community hall. Once there, families congregated in groups, and each member was covered by a grey blanket. The blanket, an ashen cape, a temporary source of comfort, gifted by the governing authorities.

“The exhibition’s Xhosa title, Izicwangciso Zezethu, means ‘our plans’… We may plan our lives, but we have no control of the outcome. It is a game of chance,” says curator, Tandazani Dhlakama.

Speaking on the use of the chequered bag in the show, Nqaba says the material symbolises a home. “My home was always in transit. I moved between three different places – Butterworth, Grabouw and Khayelitsha – which had different people inhabiting them, there was no single physical home,” says Nqaba.

“The bag is something I grew up using and my father would pack it for me. Then when I arrived at the kwaLanga Station in Cape Town, I saw everybody with their belongings in the same bag. The only way you could differentiate was to put tape around your bag and write your surname.”

“I was at another train station recently and I saw the exact same scene from my childhood. All the ‘China’ bags were there, and the buses were separating people going from one location to another. It was my story, but it was also their story.”

Nqaba hopes that her art will not only educate people but also give hope to those from similar backgrounds.

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