Axis Gallery, New York
March 22 – May 4, 2002
Thabiso Phokompe’s New York solo debut follows his inclusion in the exhibition “Liberated Voices: Contemporary Art from South Africa,” which opened at the Museum for African Art in New York in 1999 and is currently on tour in the US.
Phokompe trained in Johannesburg at FUBA (Federated Union of Black Artists) during the 1980s, where his sense of identity was bolstered by exposure to the ideas of Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness Movement. Later, while studying at the Johannesburg Art Foundation, he became fascinated with abstraction and found objects. His interest in conceptual and site-specific work was sparked through workshops with other African artists and later by international art trends, but his work remains grounded in African concepts and materials. Phokompe’s starting point is natural fiber and earth, which represents “the womb from which life flows” in many African belief systems. The surfaces of his work are composed of burlap, African earth, and natural ochers that link his practice to prehistoric art traditions South African archaeologists have recently uncovered a fragment of engraved ocher that is the oldest known work of art 77,000 years old. Into his surfaces, Phokompe embeds and hides medicinal materials and objects similar to those he witnessed his mother use as a diviner and herbalist in the Zulu tradition. By evoking spiritual concerns, Phokompe presents what has become largely “other,” or repressed, within many Western conceptual frameworks.
The environment of New York, where Phokompe now lives, is reflected in such found objects as crack vials.