In his first solo exhibition, “Woven Comforts,” Tshepo Phokojoe, the acclaimed winner of the 2023 Blessing Ngobeni Art Prize, skillfully crafts a tapestry of emotions, ideas, and textures that invites viewers to explore the diverse facets of human existence.
The main theme of “Woven Comforts” is a deep investigation of the concepts of home, nest, and womb. Phokojoe’s use of hessian cloth as a medium is a purposeful and striking choice, as it connects the human desire for comfort, safety, and belonging with a tangible and tactile appeal.
The exhibition begins with a question that echoes throughout the space: What is ‘home’? This existential query is the heart of Phokojoe’s artistic inquiry. Is it a physical location, a mental state, or a combination of both? His personal journey as an artist from Soweto, along with his experiences of displacement and cultural diversity, inspire this reflective narrative.
Within the gallery’s walls, the hessian cloth transforms into various shapes, embodying the idea of a ‘nest.’ These delicately woven structures, both fragile and sturdy, convey the warmth and care associated with creating a refuge for oneself and others. The complex textures reflect the intricacies of human relationships and the architectural wonders found in nature. It seems that Phokojoe encourages viewers to nestle in the complexities of life and consider the fragility and resilience of our havens.
The centerpiece of the exhibition presents the ‘womb,’ a symbolic expression of the primal source of life, security, and growth. A human figure wrapped in hessian cloth evokes the protective cocoon of maternal love and stimulates reflection on the origins of existence. It’s a striking and intimate depiction that speaks to the universal human experience.
Phokojoe’s artistic journey, marked by the use of hessian cloth, reveals a deep respect for the material. His interest in its biodegradability and versatility is evident in every piece. He creatively manipulates the cloth, challenging its limits, much as one may question the boundaries of identity, belonging, and culture. Hessian, traditionally used for transplanting plants, serves as a metaphor for movement and transplantation, echoing the artist’s own experiences of migration and displacement.
Tshepo Sizwe Phokojoe’s artistic talent shines in “Woven Comforts.” His self-taught background, combined with his experience in visual arts and fashion, gives a unique and captivating flavour to the exhibition. He’s a rising star, with awards such as the 2017 PPC Imaginarium Merit Award for Fashion and the 2023 Blessing Ngobeni Art Prize highlighting his potential. His work, informed by his mentorships and studio collaborations, displays an intricate and refined sensibility.
“Woven Comforts” invites viewers to a profound contemplation of the human condition, migration, and the quest for a sense of home. Phokojoe’s use of hessian cloth as a conduit for these inquiries is both innovative and evocative. The exhibition represents a powerful fusion of artistic expression and intellectual curiosity.
As one enters the exhibition, it becomes clear that “Woven Comforts” is more than a visual journey; it’s a sensory and emotional odyssey. Phokojoe’s exploration of the abstract concepts of home, nest, and womb is grounded in a tangible and tactile medium, offering a rich tapestry of experiences for those willing to engage with his art.
Blessing Ngobeni Art Prize 2023 Winner
Exhibition dates: 14 October - 21October 2023