MATTERS OF THE ART
Lebo Thoka surrenders to her palpable new medium at August House
South African artist Lebo Thoka takes a leap of faith in her recent solo exhibition Kgape, which is showing at August House.
Known more for her digital offerings with her photographic work, she repositioned her practice to reflect her recent interest in meditation and spirituality and applied it to textiles.
“Her work speaks to the concept of Neti-Neti, which is removing all the parts (of your social conditioning) that you are not, to find the parts that you are”, reveals Palesa Suthane, the curator of the show.
On the day of the opening, as one ascended the 4th floor of August House, you were met with the sounds of Jazz artist Tshepo Tshola and the rays of sunshine which emphasised the green hues of Thoka’s works. Curator Palesa Suthane, who embraced everyone with a warm smile and firm handshake, conducted the first walkabout.
Kgape, which means “again” in Sepedi, explores repetition in nature. Thoka uses the act of stitching as a tool of repetition, learning and navigating her own existence. She uses wool and hessian to create these organic textile compositions, derived from her surroundings and her spirituality.
In the end, which is ironically the first piece you see as you enter the space, depicts an abstract landscape with three circles suspended above it. The piece is made from black and white wool, with some of the stitching protruding outwards from the frame. This creates a 3D effect which can be appreciated better in real life. You almost want to run your fingers through the work, due to its inviting textures.
“The work pulls you towards it and you have to practice restraint, much like being in nature and avoiding disruption,” observes Suthane. Considering the title of the show, perhaps it was intentional for the work In the end to be placed at the beginning, to speak to the repetition and the idea of things starting anew, where they appear to end.
As you walked through the space, the dialogue between the curator and the artist was perceptible. Drawing you into the journey of the creative process from the uncertainty that defined the beginning, to when Thoka became more intentional with the composition and refined her stitching.
In the piece The Meeting, positioned earlier in the show, we see a definite reference to the fingerprint, though the stitching is slightly chaotic. However, with the piece Kopano, the composition is more abstract and compelling yet the stitching is uncluttered and graceful. The green tones convey a connection to nature. Interestingly enough, Kopano translates into “a meeting” and therefore the work could be another rendition of the piece with this title. They possess similar attributes including the curved lines and the same protruding stitches.
The choice of display complimented the work. Suthane used dark brown wooden frames which worked well with the organic tones of the wool as well as that of the hessian. In addition, the lack of glass on the frames allowed the viewers to engage better with the details. One viewer commented that Thoka’s origins in Limpopo were also visible in the works — the greens, earthly tones and references to land and abundance.
This body of work is the culmination of Thoka’s residency at August House, the Doornfontein building that houses over 40 artist studios. The residency stems from the Womxn to Watch Award that is supported by the Meta Foundation. It aims to highlight talented female-identifying artists in the country. As the 2022 recipient, Thoka took the opportunity to explore new media that spoke more to her personal journey as a spiritual person. Sara Hallatt, director of the Meta Foundation, describes the residencies as “a unique opportunity to take a holiday from the work you are doing as an artist and pushing your creativity”.
Thoka taught herself to work with textile-related mediums, which at first she found difficult. Using the hessian as a canvas created a lot of room for error. It limited her control over the material as opposed to working digitally where “control Z” is at the edge of your fingertips. She endured the frustrations this entailed and found her voice in the medium, which opened up a space for healing, meditation and catharsis.
“Unlike her digital work, this body of work is a more inner-outer than outer-inner” says Suthane. The residency not only gave light to a female artist but also provided a platform for confronting less favourable ideas for Thoka. The imperfections generated from the materials appear to have fostered a belief that it is okay to celebrate the beauty of flaws but moreover, to never be discouraged to start over. DM
This text was produced during a journalism development programme run by African Arts Content. Kgape shows at August House until July 8. Viewings are by appointment only: email [email protected]