Rich Mnisi’s New Solo Exhibition at Southern Guild

WORDS Gina Dionisio PHOTOS Ricardo Simal (Portrait); Hayden Phipps

Rich Mnisi’s new solo exhibition, Dzuvula (Shedding Skin), now showing at Southern Guild, expands on the notion of duality first seen in the designer’s debut collection, Nyoka.

In his latest work, Rich Mnisi explores the relationship between the mundane and the magical, the matriarchal and magisterial – themes that have emanated from the artist’s embrace of fluidity as a guiding philosophy and aesthetic approach.

The snake is once again a central character, with the undulating arcs of its movement distorting and disrupting borders and edges. While Nyoka tried to capture the frictions and tensions of life and creation, Dzuvula expands on this concept and draws parallels between the snake’s dual nature and our own conflicting human nature.

Rich Mnisi's New Solo Exhibition Southern Guild

“We are at once faithful and faithless, bound and free,” he notes. “Sustaining existence within life’s many tensions defines the human experience. Dzuvula turns the acceptance of this immutable truth into a sensory journey. Every piece reflects the result of growing into oneself – risk and vulnerability, strain and ease – through a vocabulary of forms, patinas, patterns and textures.”

A polished bronze table, titled Mbhoni (Witness), with its bulging surface, is held up on a serpentine limb that both embraces and impales it. A pair of sculptural bronze and sheepskin seats, Ripfumelo I and Ripfumelo II, embody the dualities of fear and discomfort.

In Vutlhari II (Wisdom), a bronze chandelier, the serpent contorts over and into itself in a manner best described as swirling, consuming wisdom handed down by our forebears. In this edition of the chandelier – a collaboration between Rich Mnisi and designer Charles Haupt that debuted in Nyoka – the shades have been printed with an intricate snakeskin pattern.

Dzuvula also makes reference to Bumba, the Bushongo mythological god who created life by vomiting up elements of the natural world. Shiluva (Flower), a rug skillfully woven from hand-spun Tibetan wool and silk by the adept hands of artisans at Paco Rugs, depicts the primordial soup of Bumba’s regurgitation of life. Nyoka II, a curved console which first appeared in Mnisi’s 2021 solo show, features a storage cavity concealed by richly patterned beading inspired by Mnisi’s 2022 Mafamba Yexe fashion collection.

Dzuvula speaks to the things that quietly encroach in between. This new body of work is the spark created by that friction: the animation of life. Light bounces off the reflective surfaces, creating a multitude of shapes from the teasing apart of one. 

Rich Mnisi’s solo exhibition Dzuvula (Shedding Skin) is showing at Southern Guild until 18 April 2024.

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