Bonolo Kavula's abstraction of Shweshwe
For some reason I have been attending many first solo exhibitions lately. I kind of love first solo exhibitions. You have some idea what to expect, as you have seen their work popping up here and there, before a gallerist finally gives them a dedicated space and time to present a full show. However, you are not really sure what direction the show might take and if their aesthetic or mode actually works and can be developed further. It’s a weighted moment but also not, given there is time to grow.
Bonolo Kavula’s first solo exhibition at Smac, titled sewedi sewedi (after her Grandfather who recently died), doesn’t disappoint. The meticulous labour behind the works - defined by small dots of shweshwe fabric - immediately holds your attention. But it is her highly unique treatment of what has become a cliche symbol of the relations between the West and Africa that is most compelling.
It is not a deconstruction of this socially-loaded material that is enacted through these lines of small pieces of fabric but perhaps more a close study and an abstraction. These dots of fabric don’t necessarily reveal anything despite the scrutiny they afford - they are too small, yet an analysis of each little speck is possible. Yet in her construction and composition - straight lines of dots tethered together in an ordered net, which is suspended on picture frame they recede into a different kind of pattern. In this way Kavula appears to have created a space where the literal threads of this fabric can be disentangled from a complex matrix of social history. Or can they? Herein lies the tension.