Simphiwe Ndzube

Contemporary surrealist, Simphiwe Ndzube, reimagines race and power through his jubilant and fantastical works of art.

Ndzube’s practice is absurd, joyful and conceptually weighty. He works across painting and sculpture, often fusing 2D canvases with 3D forms. In his sculpture, charismatic figures stand, flail, and dance with exaggerated hips and stomachs. Made out of second-hand shirts, ties and suit-trousers, the works evoke the archetype of the African Dandy, as well as the street style of the artist’s home, Masiphumelele, a township in Cape Town.

Select Achievements
  • Work in collections inc. The CC Foundation, Shanghai; HOW Art Museum, Shanghai; Museo Kaluz, Mexico City; Rupert Museum, Cape Town; Rubell family collection, Miami; Iziko South African National Gallery; Zeitz MOCAA
  • Solo show, The Rain Prayers, at Museo Kaluz, Mexico City, 2019
  • Winner of Culture Creators Annual Innovators & Leaders Award, 2019
  • Solo show, Waiting For Mulungu, at the Cc Foundation, Shanghai, 2018
  • Debut solo show, Becoming, at WHATIFTHEWWORLD Gallery, Cape Town, 2016
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In Ndzube’s paintings, surreal compositions depict arid landscapes and macabre human creatures, as if Francis Bacon had painted the Grinch. The race and gender of the characters is often ambiguous, shifting between human, animal and fantastical beast. Influenced by magical realist literature, along with race theorists such as Frantz Fanon, Ndzube creates new forms of myth that examine race and power throughout history as well as today. 

“I think art has the ability to make its audience sympathise, and momentarily forget or, alternatively, be reminded of certain things happening in the world.”

Ndzube constructs an imaginary land called Mine Moon in his work. On Mine Moon, the Mungu People have colonised the natives, or Spirit People, who live there. Characteristic of colonizers, the Mungu People exploit their resources. In his 2019 solo show, In the Order of Elephants After the Rain, at Nicodim Gallery in Bucharest, the artist visualises this world. In the centre of the gallery, there is an island of sand with a pink lagoon set into it. This lagoon is the last remaining water source on Mine Moon. Two downtrodden figures walk towards the water, and a ladder behind them ascends into nowhere. The scene, packed with symbolism, parallels the histories of Apartheid in South Africa and serves as a critique of contemporary race relations. However, through thinking in parallel to the real world, rather than directly within it, Ndzube creates space for potential — space to reflect on difficult realities while simultaneously imagining how we can change them. 

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Through his practice, Ndzube exercises his right to ultimate freedom: freedom of thought, freedom of expression, freedom to create whatever he wants with whatever materials he choses. These expressions of individual freedom, however, are always tied to the artist’s past, both individual and collective. Through all the different elements of Ndzube’s work, a grand History is broken down into smaller gestures: ties, clothes and wigs hold the untold stories of their previous owners, while stitching fabric performs the symbolic act of mending wounds. This, paired with Ndzube’s surreal and carnivalesque aesthetic, creates a contemporary folklore that opens up parallel worlds in which we can reflect on the issues of our own.

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