Hlobo is best known for his recombinant sculptures made from coloured ribbon and castoff bits of leather, wood and rubber. Raised by his maternal grandmother in the Eastern Cape, Hlobo’s earliest experience of adapting and reusing materials was when, as an adolescent, he made drums from empty paint tins and stretched rubber tubing. His artistic practice is not anchored in any fixed form and effortlessly shifts between abstraction and various forms of figuration. Libidinal and culturally resonant, his sculptures include interpretations of male and female sexual organs, animal enclosures and a dragon-like creature debuted at the 2011 Venice Biennale (the work is owned by collector Jochen Zeitz).
Hlobo’s work often features straggling pieces of fabric that transgress defined volumes and invite consideration of contiguous spaces. This extends to his mixed-media works on paper, work integral to Hlobo’s output since his 2006 exhibition Izele (birth) at Stevenson. This lot appeared in his second exhibition at Stevenson, by which time Hlobo had formalised his method of suturing ribbon and rubber into abstract, rhizomatic forms on paper that propose open-ended constellations of materials and ideas. Commenting broadly on Hlobo’s “creative sewing,” artist Gavin Jantjes characterised his assemblages as “a physical and intellectual patchwork that reveals his on-going interrogation of his Xhosa traditions and the conventions of contemporary art.”1
Stevenson, Cape Town, Nicholas Hlobo: Kwatsityw'iziko, 6 March to 26 April, 2008.
Sue Williamson (2009) South African Art Now, New York: Collins Design. Page 134 and illustrated in colour on page 135.