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Certain artists—Kerry James Marshall and Nicole Eisenman come to mind—have mastered the ability to combine life as it is lived with life as it is portrayed; representation and abstraction work in tandem to produce portraits or scenes that reveal more about their subjects than literal depictions. With his first solo show in Los Angeles, Bhabharosi, the South-African born artist, Simphiwe Ndzube, establishes himself as a promising new voice in this vein.
The exhibition’s title comes from a combination of the words “barbarous” and “rose” pronounced in isiXhosa, Ndzube’s native language, and was inspired by the Swenkas, working-class Zulu men who find a way to transcend their day-to-day lives by sporting dapper outfits and competing in amateur fashion shows. Through a series of paintings and sculptures, Ndzube has depicted surreal versions of these DIY dandies, their bodies wildly contorted, limbs tapering out into snake-like appendages. Most of his figures are headless; their swollen frames ending in abrupt knots, lamp shades, or bright orange traffic cones. The few with heads bear faces twisted into anguished veils. Others are composed almost entirely of found objects, construction materials and lights, with only shoes to denote the body. Their sartorial exuberance is expressed through riotously-patterned textiles that unfurl in wild combinations in painted backgrounds or sprawl across the gallery floor.
More than a literal reflection of their lives, Bhabarosi takes inspiration from the Swenkas, creating an expansive world built from everyday objects that rise above their modest origins. Channeling their sense of aspirational transformation, Ndzube’s anthropomorphic assemblages and fantastical canvases function as a stage set on which to project our own embodied fantasies of rebirth.
Simphiwe Ndzube: Bhabharosi runs September 9–October 14, 2017 at Nicodim (571 S. Anderson Street, Suite 2, Los Angeles, CA 90033).