ZIZIPHO POSWA / UBUHLE BOKHOKHO
17 November 2022 – 2 February 2023
Southern Guild presents uBuhle boKhokho (Beauty of Our Ancestors), a solo exhibition by Zizipho Poswa, from 17 November 2022 to 2 February, 2023. This new series of ceramic and bronze sculptures draws inspiration from the elaborate art of hairstyling practised by Black women across the African continent and diaspora.
Almost a year in the making, uBuhle boKhokho marks the beginning of another ambitious chapter for the artist. Poswa continues the exploration of her own cultural story as a Xhosa woman through the making of her sculptural works. Hair, with its profound symbolic relationship to Blackness, remains a relevant source of inspiration and dialogue within contemporary cultural discourse.
Poswa created and wore 12 hairstyles over a period of five months, documenting each embodiment photographically as part of her process. Through this charged metaphoric lens, hair becomes a personal script for language, for the carrying of meaning and the celebration of self as an act of defiance.
Measuring up to two metres high, the sculptures are confrontational in their monumentality while retaining an imposing sensuality. Their hand-coiled ceramic bases reflect Poswa’s shift in focus from pattern and colour to shape and texture, culminating in elaborate adornments made from either bronze or clay. The series of 20 sculptures employs a visual vocabulary that straddles figuration and abstraction, reflecting the three dimensionality of woven, braided and threaded hair. Many of the historic and contemporary hairstyles that Poswa references include architectural constructions where the hair (or artificial extensions in many cases) is wrapped over armatures. These include the complex crested arrangement worn by Fulani women from West Africa and the fan-shaped headpiece of the Zande from Congo.
Having specialised in textile design at university, Poswa was drawn to the process of constructing each hairstyle and the meditative aspect of crafting their patterns. The manipulation of Black hair is a long-recognised traditional art form that has only recently entered the mainstream’s lexicon of cultural iconography. The works in uBuhle boKhokho are palimpsestic in their visual power, echoing a lineage of artistry that includes traditional hairstyles documented in archival materials, the iconic images of Nigerian photographer J.D. ’Okhai Ojeikere and the contemporary creations of Chicago-based artist Shani Crowe. Like the work of Ojeikere and Crowe, in Poswa’s ceramics the ephemerality of these cultural symbols finds a new transcendental sense of permanence.
uBuhle boKhokho expands on the artist’s earlier Magodi series, titled after the Shona word for traditional African hairstyles, in one sustained and more in-depth body of work. Curated throughout the entire gallery space, the exhibition invites the viewer to walk through an assembly of selves with each work reflecting a different hairstyle worn during the project’s embodied research.
Some of the exhibition’s sculptures have been titled after specific hairstylists whom the artist knows, and their country of origin. Others refer to historical female figures, the regional names given to specific hairstyles, or groups known to wear the depicted coiffure and their geographical origins. In so doing, Poswa interweaves the personal and historic; situating herself in a vast and ever-expanding network of Black women who continue to self-define and affirm their own standards of beauty.