In her last exhibition, artist and curator Mbali Tshabalala was inspired by the monster that is xenophobia. She focused on the commonalities of both the victims and perpetrators in her art ”books”.
”I wanted to create open books that depicted our similarities as people. Everyone is a foreigner somewhere; humans have been migrating from the beginning of time and the place you call home was once another’s home.
“It’s not enough to tolerate each other. It’s important we actually learn how to treat each other as humans,” says Tshabalala.
The 29-year-old from Malvern, in the east of Johannesburg, admits to being a printmaker at heart but works mostly in sculptural glass and ceramics.
She began printmaking at a community art centre in Kliptown, Soweto, in 2011 and then started darkroom photography under the mentorship of Victor Matom and the late Dumisani Mabaso.
Today Tshabalala has over 20 group exhibitions under her belt as an artist.
For the exhibition, titled An African Anecdote, hosted at Alliance Francaise de Pretoria, she used art books to convey her ideas.
”I work in the format of books as a metaphor for individual narratives joined together by the fact that we’re all essentially just particles in a continuously changing organism.
“When an organism fights itself we call it cancerous. I question the notion that the human race is a cancer. The works look like particles of matter under a microscope or a view of earth from space,” she says.
Tshabalala hopes her work encourages a culture of ubuntu.
”The subject matter is based on the ‘isms’ that separate us and human relationships. The theme of my current work is human migrations. There’s a lot of intolerance in our society, including xenophobia and racism.
“We forget that everyone is a foreigner somewhere,” she says.
Tshabalala is currently completing her BTech in Fine Arts at the Tshwane University of Technology.
Earlier this year she attended the Paris Art Fair, which had a focus on African art.
”It was very important for me to be there as a curator because the Paris Art Fair is one of the most prominent art fairs in the world alongside Tokyo Art Fair and London Art Fair.
“I wanted to see how contemporary African artists handle African issues and present them to the public.”
Tshabalala has curated quite a few exhibitions.
She says she realised in varsity that the art industry needed professional curators and being an artist wasn’t enough for her.
”I also want to create platforms for young female artists to experiment and show their work to the public without being afraid that the work we produce here doesn’t fit into preconceptions of contemporary art.”
This is the reason why she is launching her own gallery, Anecdotes, which opened its doors on July 18 at 1 Eloff Street, Johannesburg.
”It’s opening with a group exhibition of five artists,” she says.
The official opening will feature an exhibition titled August House with works by Diane Victor, Themba Khumalo, Andrew Kayser, Benon Lutaay and other artists from August House – an industrial building from the 1940s converted into a network of living and working spaces for artists.
The building houses 16 artist studios, a sewing factory and a group of residents who all work in the creative industries.
”The exhibition pays homage to the artists and the building itself.”
Tshabalala believes that there’s never been a better time to be a black African female artist.
”The playing fields are being levelled and the art world is continuously being monitored to help female artists thrive if they’re willing to put in the work,” she says.