Matereality Exhibition Answers Questions Concerning Climate Change, Xenophobia, Poverty, Gender & more

After spending two consecutive weeks consuming art in its different forms, I was excited to, firstly, visit the Iziko South African National Gallery for historical reasons, as well as to mingle with Cape Town’s esteemed galleries and curators at the opening of Matereality – an exhibition that concerns itself with how contemporary African artists are using certain materials to explore different issues.

Nobukho Nqaba
Umaskhenkethe Likhaya Lam (2012)


In an era where we are faced with climate and environmental issues, pollution, waste, xenophobia, poverty, beauty, gender and politics – the question at hand is; how are artists responding to these issues? 

Athi Patra-Ruga, Patrick Bongoy, Jodi Paulsen, Billie Zangewa, Bert Pauw, Bronwyn Katz, Cyrus Kabiru, Gabrielle Kruger and many more aim to show the world how they are using certain materials to explore different issues and ideas that give insight into their reality – and in turn, challenging traditional notions around what materials are suited to art-making.

Bert Pauw
Compact (2019)
Plastic bags
140 x 102cm
© Image courtesy of the artist

The artists encapsulate a very wide scope of materials, showing that ‘materiality’ is a rich subject; materials range from cow-hides to plastic bags, from bra-straps to pantyhose, from fake nails to computer parts.

In other words, the exhibition unpacks how artists have used the materials, whether directly or indirectly, to raise questions about larger societal concerns. The selection of artists explores a wide range of issues; however, the thread that connects them all is that of using materiality to guide the aesthetic experience. 

Serge Attukwei Clottey
Too far from home (2017)
Plastics, wires, and oil paint
147 x 198 cm

These artists explore what is important to them with autonomy and authority, but without losing the material traditions that have been such an important part of their nation’s artistic or historical legacy. The materials being used often have an inherent history, which can offer a powerful starting point and make for a more meaningful process.

Recycling in art is not a new concept, but these visual practitioners working with different materials seem to be discovering even more innovative means of working with diverse and often unusual materials. The capacity to take one material and re-contextualise that within an artwork speaks to the notion that art is precisely that capacity to use things in new ways.


Cyrus Kabiru
Blue Nile (2017) 
Steel and Found Objects
150 x 30 x 140 cm
Private Collection
©Image courtesy of the artist and SMAC Gallery

After exploring and having concluded and mostly understood what the premise behind the body of work is, I came to realise that the exhibition had created a platform for conversations around how and where art can exist – and through Matereality the gallery made a space for innovation, radical experimentation and lawlessness. 

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