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The Portfolio: Wezile Mgibe

In my practice, I have been deliberate in highlighting voices and bodies. The idea of seeking and creating conversations that forge new directions in the face of various forms of marginalisation and exclusion from public and social spaces is empowering to me. This is why I came to an idea of creating this body of work I call The Interrogator featuring a figure covered in bandages and cotton wool. 

When you look at someone with a bandage, you know you need to exercise caution. You position yourself in a place of kindness. It also forces one to re-evaluate one’s thoughts, behaviour and the world we may want to create. The work is a means of projecting all those thoughts.

The Interrogator series is currently exhibited on an M1 highway billboard project in collaboration with Frank Meintjies and The Centre for the Less Good Idea. The idea started when we were on lockdown and art spaces were closed. Frank shared some of his poems with me and we felt that those specific lines spoke to the artwork and the current situation we are facing: “The gagging air, the jobless young, the shaft that injects my blood into the earth and sucks out gold.”

In my view, the billboard acts as a gallery, a kind of public space with no boundaries. Here, one can experience the artwork without feeling like one has to negotiate space with the system and position themselves as a “better black”. 

The work itself is made up of collective memories and projects with those I met during my research residencies in various locations. The photograph of The Interrogator is inspired by the durational performance I presented at the Art Joburg Fair in 2019, as part of being the David Koloane Award recipient. 

The performance art was around artists and the complex realities we face,  most importantly, who is negotiating for us? The representation is important, however, you need to be very clear on what kind of representation you are advocating for. 

While I deal with subjects that are widely engaged by artists, I always find ways to deal with them peculiarly and durationally as a way of creating deeper conversations. This can be tiring at first because you have to wade through expectations placed on you as a black performance artist.

The expectation is to perform pain, ritual or wretchedness. Concepts relating to land, nature, abstract work or anything that provides a platform for a black artist to simply be, are foreign, looked at as needing time to be understood or approved. 

With this work, I comfortably found my range and created a platform for critical self-reflexivity within unwelcoming spaces. 

There are many ways to do things, and this work gives space for us to seek those ways.

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Wezile Mgibe
Wezile Mgibe is an art practitioner whose interdisciplinary practice encompasses performance, film, installation as a tool for social change. His work confronts prejudices and advocates against social inequality and creates a platform for critical self- reflexivity within unwelcoming spaces. Mgibe’s work is influenced by how things have come to existence, as well as motivations behind certain movements, reactions, human behaviors, and mostly how these become symbols. A contemporary trained movement artist who runs an onsite project in the public realm is very interested in the concept of Belonging. Mgibe is a 2019 David Koloane award recipient, Arts & Culture Trust Finalist Recipient for 2020. His body of work has been witnessed across the country including at Iziko National Gallery (SA), Norval Foundation, FNB Art Joburg, Centre for Applied Human Rights Hub (UK), Hangar Online (Portugal), and Institute for Creative Arts (SA).

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