Challenges is not just an art exhibition; it’s a powerful narrative that delves into the raw struggles observed and personally experienced by Nkoali Nawa in the informal settlements of Mfuleni, Cape Town. Having lived amongst the challenges, the artist transforms his experiences into ten compelling charcoal drawings that intricately explore themes of identity, belonging, and the intricate tapestry of navigating cultural differences.
Nkoali Nawa (b.1965) started his working life in the mines in Welkom, where he grew up. This industry is indelibly linked to South Africa’s social and political history, driving the development of towns and cities and some of the exploitative and sometimes dehumanising practices historically tied to it. Working at the coalface of this industry and having first-hand experience of it has shaped Nawa’s outlook as an artist.
Nawa always has in mind a story he wishes to tell; in this instance the challenges he noticed and personally faced in the “slums” (informal settlements) of Mfuleni, where he lived for some time with his son. “Challenges” presents the viewer with ten charcoal drawings that reference identity, belonging, and the painful complexity of navigating cultural differences; – acknowledging the resilience of the human spirit through Nawa’s lived experience, borne by his Faith. It is a testament to the triumph of the human spirit and will leave the viewer deeply moved.
He returns to his photographic archive regularly, selecting different images and piecing them together in creating a narrative. He aims to recreate a social scene, even though perhaps not all the images were taken in the same setting or year.
Working on drawings that relate to each other in terms of subject-matter suits his manner of working – he rarely works on one drawing at a time, preferring to move between multiple works simultaneously.
In translating photographs into drawings, he is not completely faithful to reality – he adapts the images to suit a composition that pleases his eye.
Yet, in his drawings there is little sense the scenes he presents as they are overly constructed for the viewers’ pleasure. What makes them so compelling is that they appear to offer candid glimpses of reality.
Writer Kolodi Senong describes Nawa’s art as social reportage and suggests it is valuable as an expression of the black experience in South Africa. His monochromatic language, which charcoal drawing allows, sets a sombre tone. His art recalls the work of Kentridge and Diane Victor, another prominent South African artist associated with gritty realism. He is also inspired by western artists such as Goya, Daumier and even Van Gogh, who also showed an interest in capturing the lives of the veritable person in the street.
Sisonke Gallery at Cape Heritage Hotel
90 Bree Street
Cape Town 8000, South Africa