Barbati Gallery is delighted to present Searching for Mama’s songs, the first solo exhibition of South African artist Phumelele Tshabalala. The exhibition comprises a new body of mixed media works on canvas, board and paper. Taking place at Palazzo Lezze on Campo Santo Stefano in the heart of Venice, the exhibition will be on view from September 3 through November 5, 2022.
The show reflects on the artist’s return to South Africa after many years spent learning and working in Los Angeles. As Tshabalala states, “the complexities of South Africa have a way of reminding ourselves that we are in a constant way of becoming and thus we must endure. A place where one questions certainty and begins to celebrate uncertainty because somehow there is promise in the unknown”. In the new paintings specifically realized for the spaces of Palazzo Lezze in Venice, Tshabalala shares with the viewer the result of his studio practice, “a space to embrace Hope and Love while joyfully glazing at beautiful faces of family, friends both old and new as well as many ‘strangers’ who reminded him his own origins”.
“I am in an ancient place now that honors history in gilded cathedrals, marble statues and white winged angels at the right hand of God. Blackness is depicted in tiny decapitated black heads used as cufflinks for adornment and comfort. Even the well-meaning charity box requesting a coin donation to save the starving children of Africa, exposes the image of a naked black child ill with a bulging belly but no face. He happens to have his head turned away from the capturing of his existence.
Here in this part of the world in front of the building where Phumelele Tshabalala (the extraordinary South-African, Sowetan artist of the the remarkable and powerful solo show: Searching for Mama’s Songs at the Barbati Gallery in Venice, Italy) elevates the black narrative off of the floor of submission and poverty onto wood panels and canvases adorned in a splendor of colors and textures surrounding centered beings who expand beyond the frame by staring directly at us, the viewers. Confronting, engaging and compelling us. We look at the beautiful habitats of each figure but are unable to avoid the truth that we the voyeur are being seen.
This engagement of these new historic figures endues you with the revelation of each figures knowing of their individual self-worth. Their regality is undeniable as effulgent figures holding guided leaves, instruments and hands shine from their essence to the world surrounding them.
Tshabalala’s choice and use of color reveals the artist’s expert awareness of the meanings we associate with color and challenges the viewer to engage with a world where ‘black’ is not a space void of light but the very source of gold, silver and bronze, our valued minerals.
From a world where the indigenous were and are exploited, Searching for Mama’s Songs takes you into a world where richness is not restored but recognized for the innate wealth existing in us now.
‘Us’. Tshabalala includes us all on this search. We all know the lullabies of our mothers but also the honoring shared between generations; children, women and men.”
Kensiwe Tshabalala, 2022
Phumelele Tshabalala is known for creating figural works that are autobiographical and that reflect the world around him. Trained primarily as a printmaker and painter, his works include mixed-media painting and collage on canvas as well as wood panels. Employing the body as a site of expression and resistance, Tshabalala’s subject matter often considers the socio-political condition of the Black population in post-apartheid South Africa and its reverberations in a global discourse. Deeply personal narratives are woven into his paintings which blossom into universal themes of belonging and otherness.
Phumelele Tshabalala (b. 1987, Johannesburg, South Africa) lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa. He studied Fine and Applied Arts at Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria, South Africa (2009), specializing in Printmaking and Painting, and has an MFA in Visual Art from SUNY Purchase College, New York (2016). Exhibitions include Shattered Glass at Jeffrey Deitch, LA, alongside artists including Simphiwe Ndzube, Lauren Halsey and Vincent Valdez (2021); a solo exhibition at Lyles & King, New York (2021), International Print Center, New York (2017); Pjazza Kastilija, Valetta (2017); Momenta Gallery, New York (2016), and Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, New York (2015). Tshabalala has presented artist talks at Neuberger Museum, New York (2016) and Hudson Valley Center of Contemporary Art (2015).