Blessing Ngobeni: Skeletons at Work

Blessing Ngobeni: Skeletons at Work-Omenka Online

“I drive through my work’s open wounds, its scars, its moods, its behaviour… to mend where it is broken…” Blessing Ngobeni – 2021.

Blessing Ngobeni’s paintings are immediately identifiable; laden with collage and painted in bold colour, his characters perform dances of ecstasy and agony across endless swathes of canvas.

Skeletons at Work is a series of three triptychs that demonstrate a crystallisation of Ngobeni’s aesthetic. In his own words, it is a series that celebrates the “technique and language that I developed… to be able to create line drawing, reminiscent of Keith Haring, without losing my artistic language.”

Ngobeni often refers to the process of stripping away the layers embedded in his work, aesthetically and conceptually, and has coined the term “skeletonising”. The process of skeletonizing leaves only the bones, the structural framework within which he operates. This process allows him “to track the ups and downs of moments of self-expression without offending an individualised mentality”; the graphic and confrontational content found embedded in his collage instigates a reaction from the viewer, sometimes shock and fear, sometimes laughter.

The process of skeletonizing removes the prescriptive elements of the artwork and engenders a sense of vulnerability to his characters. Ngobeni feels that “by stripping off its flesh, so it reminds us who we are inside without the colour of skin, that is a dust to my vision.” In a society where our identity politics are being intensively scrutinised, challenged and reimagined, the artist presents us with his vision of skin dissolving into dust and ask us to think about what remains – when so much of our world has been constructed around our differences.

This exhibition coincides with the launch of Chaotic Pleasure, the first published monograph on Ngobeni. The book begins with Blessing winning the Standard Bank Young Artist Award 2020, for the Visual Arts, and documents the body of work created for the 2020 National Arts Festival, Chaotic Pleasure. The monograph then surveys the zeniths of Ngobeni’s artistic production, highlighting outstanding works from the artist’s archive, and contextualises his position as one of contemporary African art’s greatest living artists.

Skeletons at Work runs until 21 May 2021 at Everard Read Johannesburg.

Dylan Lewis: Apex

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