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  • Writer's pictureLucelle Pillay

JCAF Presents ‘OTHERSCAPES’: Four Installations by Four Contemporary South African Artists

Figure 1: Kevin Leicher at the Johannesburg Contemporary Art Foundation. 2023

(Photo by Lucelle Bernadette Pillay)

I had the pleasure of viewing the latest exhibition at the Johannesburg Contemporary Art Foundation recently. ‘Otherscapes’ features the work of Siemon Allen, Wim Botha, Nicholas Hlobo and Sethembile Msezane. These artists explore aspects of a failed democracy in post-apartheid South Africa. Like so many, under the burden of an ailing economy, unemployment, and rolling black-outs, Allen, Botha, Hlobo and Msezane negotiate these uncertainties through art. As agents attempting to operate within a corrupt political system, their art speaks to notions of temporal histories, spiritualism and the sublime. A refreshing curatorship of installations that were both engaging and provocative. JCAF is certainly the 'coolest' art destination in Joburg, and one I would highly recommend if you are seeking some cultural stimulation.

Figure 2. Msezane. 2017. Avuleku Amazulu. 2023.

(Photo by Kevin Leicher)

Upon entering the viewer encounters the arresting installation piece by Sethembile Msezane (see figure 2), which directs your gaze upward and thereby allows you to contemplate the spiritual realm of the afterlife. A cloud of synthetic hair represents the mystical and unknown realms of what lies beyond death, whilst braids fall to the floor, weighted by rusty irons. The works acts as a tactile link between earthly burdens and the transmorphic nature of traditional spiritualism. Msezane questions whether the socio-cultural subjugation of the physical female body during life, remains imprinted after death. The work appears to float within the theatrically lit space, adding to it's transcendental nature. The viewer can't help but to perambulate around the piece, as if a Buddhist monk meditating on the meaning of existence (see figure 3).

Figure 3: Panoramic view of the work of Msezane. 2023

(Photo by Lucelle Bernadette Pillay)

Being an artist who works with data as a raw malleable art material, I found the work of Allen most intriguing, both visually and cerebrally. The artist acts as the silent archivist who 'meticulously' arranges and presents a collection of South African stamps, chronologically ranging from the colonial period to the current day. The immersive circular installation (see figure 4) seems to engulph the viewer within temporal visual histories, printed on minute canvases. The stamps as a 'found object' within the art narrative, become physical evidence of political power and the ruling state's propagation of their visual culture. I enjoyed the sheer volume and the 'OCD-ness' of the arrangement. I noticed viewers engrossed in every section of the enormous timeline of stamps, particularly older patrons who smiled fondly at the 'airmail' stamps with the image of the defunct SAA plane. Audiences who have lived through the era of 'snail mail' and the South African Post Office, read the work melancholically, as a memorial of a tumultuous past. It was interesting to see how the innate neutrality of the installation affected viewers on an emotional level, stimulating memories of our collective journey in South Africa. Musician Kevin Leicher, commented that Allen's work was reminiscent of an archaic analogue computer, it's tactile circuitry providing a map of time and events. A type of vintage precursor to the digital era of email.

Figure 4. Allen. 2010. Stamps V. 2023.

(Panoramic photo by Lucelle Bernadette Pillay)

Figure 5: Circular Installation by Siemon Allen: Detail. 2023

(Photomontage by Lucelle Bernadette Pillay)

The master sculptor who never fails to surprise, Vim Botha, presented an installation of what I like to refer to as 'sketches of forms'. Skilfully treated light-weight material rests on naked wooden supports. The intertextual collection of pieces are unassuming in finish, yet magnetic in their potential to stimulate the imagination. Like an artists' quick rendering in pencil, the work is a play of light, forms and movement. The pieces together with a light installation (see figure 6) becomes a theatrical assemblage, a type of 'mindscape' that the artist has invited us to view. I did find the experience of viewing the work a bit restricted and wished I could enjoy it from a distance. However the close encounter with the work did allow me to appreciate the immaculately sculpted surfaces (see figure 7), their 'wind blown' undulations appearing as if formed by the elements rather than the sculptors hands.

Figure 6. Botha. 2011. Solipis I. 2023

(Photo by Lucelle Bernadette Pillay)

Figure 7. Installation by Vim Botha: Detail. 2023

(Photo by Lucelle Bernadette Pillay)

The interactive installation by Nicholas Hlobo (see figure 8) caused a stir of mixed reactions as viewers are invited to enter the artists' maze of coloured ribbon. Younger patrons enjoyed the walk into the unknown, while others were unsure of entering the dark space, overhung with ribbon. These visceral reactions are exactly what the artist wants to achieve as he questions his future in South Africa's economic obstacle course, fraught with blind spots and possible 'boogey men' lurking in dark corners. The uncertainty and scepticism I felt upon entering the maze can be compared to my future in a country struggling with residual racism and state corruption. The pretty 'rainbow' coloured ribbons act as a superficial façade to more ominous activities within its interior. Figures within the maze, representing young children (see figure 9), are caught in the strangle hold of the exorbitant cost of education, spiralling unemployment, and hopelessness. Hlobo's work allows us to interact with our deepest fears and insecurities, yet by doing so, unites our humanity as South Africans and our unrelenting ability to hope for a better future.

Figure 8. Hlobo. 2010. Ndize. 2023

(Screenshot from JCAF website. Photo edited by Lucelle Bernadettte Pillay)

Figure 9. Installation by Nicholas Hlobo. Interior Detail. 2023

(Screenshot from JCAF website. Photo edited by Lucelle Bernadettte Pillay)

Make your way to the Johannesburg Contemporary Art Foundation to view this amazing exhibition, its worth your time. Let me know your thoughts in the comment section of this article.

Figure 10. Lucelle at Otherscapes hosted by JCAF. 2023

(Photo by Kevin Leicher)

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