The Portfolio: Jamal Nxedlana

Jamal Nxedlana’s virtual exhibition, Dangerous Bodies, with Sulger-Buel Gallery, shows what can be constructed by pulling a thematic thread across the fluidity of an in-between moment.

The exhibition includes images from his series Dangerous Bodies (2019) and his newer work Third Body (2020), which was produced at two distinct moments this year. Dangerous Bodies prompted the conceptual considerations for Third Body, but these sets of images represent a movement towards something new; something more deliberate. 

Finding ways to realise work in ways that make the most sense for the various positions Nxedlana occupies is as much a part of his practice as exploring themes with the camera as a tool. As an artist who engages in making work intermittently, practicality is an important factor in  executing his process of ideation and production. Third Body is an intensified representation of this practice. 

The first set of images for Third Body was produced earlier in the year, before the country went into lockdown. This initial attempt at manifesting his ideas for this series followed his usual methodology: organising a shoot to be executed within one day. Reviewing the images, there was a desire to push the work further, while still unpacking the same thematic considerations of the postcolonial condition, perceptions of blackness and his own experiences as a black man in South Africa through an Afrofuturistic lens. 

After Dangerous Bodies, Nxedlana felt an initial unhappiness with the first set of images. This was a result of a transitional moment, in which one creative cycle was morphing into another. He began working on a second set of images for Third Body in August on a self-initiated residency for which he rented a friend’s art studio. “I thought it was really important to shoot something over a period of time,” he said. “I think having a studio allows that.” 

With the opportunity to work with those he photographed in an iterative manner, Nxedlana was able to merge facsimiles of thought and digital images. Each reworking laid the foundations for the visual language that can be seen across the images. “It was important to work in a different way to how I had been working,” Nxedlana said. “It is about what can I say using certain material and how far can I push certain material.” 

His deeper engagement with the language of the chairs, colour and form is imprinted in the identity of each image, and was formed through contemplation and stretching the temporal frame for making. 

The works in the show make one witness to a shift in process and practice brewing in Nxedlana’s work.

Dangerous Bodies can be viewed at the Sulger-Buel Gallery until October 1 

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Christa Dee
Christa Dee is a freelance writer, researcher and emerging curator based in Johannesburg.

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