Muziwandile Gigaba, a recent master’s graduate (MTech Fine Art) cum laude, from the Department of Visual Art at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), has been awarded numerous international residencies and fellowships since his graduation in 2017. He has spent time creating art in the USA, Mexico, Egypt, Romania, and has recently returned from Serbia. Gigaba is also a part-time printmaking lecturer in UJ’s Department of Visual Art.
When she visited Muziwandile Gigaba’s master’s exhibition, Ntwananhle and the R2 Boys, last year, Robyn Sassen wrote that it was ‘something completely astonishing’ and that ‘Gigaba’s is a name to remember, taking the humble medium of mud to new and extraordinarily dignified levels.’
The exhibition showed off the young artist’s skills as a draughtsman and printmaker, but it was Gigaba’s ceramic pieces that really impressed Sassen. She writes: ‘As you walk into the gallery, your eye is caught by the impeccable attention to sculptural detail in the ceramic pieces, and it just does not let go. Ntwananhle I and II are hollow works in the aspect of a sculptural bust. They contain electric lights. By and large, this doesn’t feel necessary – the works are so contained and provocative, so detailed and mysterious, they light up on their own. Gigaba’s use of texture and text he intertwined into the surfaces of the pieces are simply breathtaking.
‘There’s much more than you can grasp in a first visit to this show – some of these ceramic heads have a slot in them, like a money box. It’s a gesture which offers a sardonic look at the concept of saving money but also comments on the preciousness of work of this nature: use these to insert your coins and when they are full, you have to smash the piece to get at your stash…
‘So, when you look at Gigaba’s ceramic heads, you might think of the ceremonial Epa masks of the Nigerian community of Yoruba. The large, almost pendulous orbs peer back at you with a kind of imperial sense of importance, and the detail and the texture on the pieces make you want to never stop caressing them with your eyes.’
Gigaba’s journey into art has not been a direct one. The 35-year-old artist, who grew up in KwaMashu Township in KwaZulu-Natal, originally started out studying civil engineering on the advice that it would provide a more stable income than the arts. ‘The turning point for my artistic journey was to quit a civil engineering course for the Bat Centre Art Residency, after I had won first prize at an art competition that took place at the Durban Institute of Technology,’ says Gigaba.
‘I side-stepped classes and apprenticed myself under a prolific South African ceramicist, Clive Sithole, who had a studio at the Bat Centre at the time. I initiated a private mentorship project whereby I was to explore clay in his presence and assist him in return when he was preparing for exhibitions… After three-and-a-half years of Clive’s mentorship, I became a facilitator at a community project at Cato Ridge whereby I transmitted the ceramics skills that I had acquired to a group of unemployed women.’
Since deciding to pursue a career in the arts, Gigaba has been making his art seen on an international scale. He has participated in workshops, symposiums, residencies and art shows across the globe.
Speaking of the meaning behind the art he creates today, Gigaba says: ‘I create oral stories and transcribe them into art. My stories reflect a traditional Zulu storytelling style in which moral values are taught through stories that feature human-animal forms. This, to me, seems to be a dying tradition and yet it carries profound knowledge that is not taught in schools. The lessons in such stories are mostly based on the moral law of humanity, Ubuntu, which encourages one to be aware of the human role on earth and how one may live in harmony with others and all aspects of nature.
‘The purpose of my work is to grapple with the significance of home language and how it serves as a profound aspect of identity. By making stories in differing contexts, all of which draw from my home language, I aim to explore how the ideologies carried by the language may be adopted into the contemporary setting as well.’
A master printmaker and ceramicist, Gigaba is someone we all need to be watching, and a prime example of the kind of talent that the UJ Department of Visual Art is moulding.
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