INTERVIEWED BY Cheri Morris IMAGES courtesy of Sthenjwa Luthuli and WHATIFTHEWORLD
Critically acclaimed South African artist Sthenjwa Luthuli, renowned for his carved wooden reliefs and woodcut prints, is currently showing his latest body of work, Inkaba yami, at WHATIFTHEWORLD in Cape Town.
WHATIFTHEWORLD states: “The title, meaning ‘Navel’ in isiZulu, makes reference to the ceremony of Inkaba yami, where a newborn’s umbilical cord is placed in the centre of a family’s kraal. Led by the elders, this ritual is a reminder for the child to never forget their origin and identity. Presented as a series of painted hand-carved wooden panels, Sthenjwa Luthuli powerfully binds spiritual and physical worlds by inscribing the surface with the value of a tangible ritual. Through his language of pattern-making, Luthuli depicts what he refers to as the ‘unknown space’; a space that represents a threshold or infinite expanse where ancestors and living descendants coalesce. The harmonious state depicted by the artist exists between tension and balance, the past and present, traditionalism and modernity.”
We chatted to Sthenjwa to find out more about the exhibition, his inspirations and his advice to young artists.
Where did your relationship with art, or your affinity for creating, begin?
I started making in 2010 when I was first introduced to art, but being creative is something I grew up with from my early childhood.
Tell us about your preferred medium(s). Why linocuts, woodcuts, etching and pattern?
I can work with any medium, but for now, the ideas that I’m developing require a large, hard material like wood, where I can explore my ideas without boundaries. I also like to challenge myself in my practice – wood carving is not an easy technique.
Tell us about the Unknown Space depicted in your current exhibition.
The Unknown Space is a home I created for myself where I exist spiritually. After failing to adapt to the education system, I had to find who Sthenjwa is and what he’s capable of in his existence. This is when I realised I’m a unique person, and that I wanted to find out what exactly is unique about me. I then found myself in a different space, the Unknown Space, a space apart from the existing world in which we live, and it’s there that I began to explore ideas.
Which artist(s), people or places have inspired you the most?
I would say I’m most inspired by myself and the way I’ve grown up because I’ve worked so hard to find myself. I never wanted to give up without achieving my goal of finding out exactly who I am. I kept my head up even in difficult circumstances. Ai Weiwei is one of the masters I look up to. I love the skills he develops as his works become more detailed and challenging.
What, if anything, do you hope viewers take from Inkaba yami, considering the communal disconnect from traditional customs caused by urbanisation, globalisation and migration?
I would say people should never forget where they come from and their identity. For me, home is always a place of happiness. I believe that no matter where you go there will never be a place like home.
Describe the physical space in which you are most creative.
The only space where I am most creative is the Unknown Space. It is the only place where I manage to visualise and create ideas.
What advice would you give to a young artist trying to carve their path?
You must keep pursuing the path of perseverance. It is always the right route to take when looking to make the impossible possible. Embrace all the negatives because you never know how they may translate in the future.