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Iingcmango is a work on paper made using rubber and ribbon. In the lower left corner, fifteen pieces of black rubber have been woven into the paper. These are delicately, but securely, held in place by white stitching. Together these pieces of rubber form an organic shape, which suggests an exotic fruit or flower, but also has phallic resonances. Meandering lines of pink, red and blue stitches emanate from a dense cluster of small knots at the base of the rubber form and spread upwards into the top left corner of the work. The sexual connotations of the forms and materials, fleshy tones and sensuous surfaces found in this work are echoed in its title, Iingcamango, which roughly translates as ‘thoughts or deeper thoughts’.
Hlobo always titles his works in his native tongue, Xhosa, an Nguni language widely spoken in South Africa. Attracted to the formal qualities of the grammar, the sounds of the words and the linguistic flexibility of Xhosa, Hlobo’s use of the language, with all its poetic idioms, proverbs and double entendres, is as much about defining himself as it is an effort to emphasise the challenges of openly talking about homosexuality in South Africa. As with Ikhonkco 2010 (Tate T13243) and Macaleni Iintozomlambo 2010 (Tate T13242), it is important to note that there is no English translation for this title.
The materials and techniques used in Iingcamango are characteristic of Hlobo’s work as a whole, as are its references to Xhosa culture and life in post-Apartheid South Africa. The process of making is fundamental to the meaning of his work. In his sculptures and drawings Hlobo utilises techniques such as stitching and weaving, which in South Africa are traditionally undertaken by women. His choice of materials is similarly charged with meaning. The old and punctured inner tubes of car tyres that he gathers from repair shops in Johannesburg are a symbol of industrialisation and the urban experience. Resembling condoms, the inner tubes are also a symbol of masculinity and sex, something that is made explicit by Hlobo’s use of phallus and sperm shapes, and forms suggesting orifices, umbilical cords and internal organs. The satin ribbon that he uses to make his marks on paper suggests femininity, domesticity and unification, in contrast to the more ‘masculine’ materials that it binds together. The ribbon, and the way it is used, challenges gender-based assumptions about divisions of labour and introduces a more ambiguous approach to sexuality.
Nicholas Hlobo: Standard Bank Young Artist Award, exhibition catalogue, National Arts Festival, Grahamstown 2009.
Gavin Jantjes (ed.), Nicholas Hlobo, exhibition catalogue, National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo 2010.