b. 1992 Kimberley, South Africa
Lives and works in Cape Town, South Africa
From her earliest works to the present, Bonolo Kavula’s art has existed between the intersections of painting, printmaking, drawing and installation, pushing the limitations of each. Using the simple unit of the circle and line, Kavula has created a unique visual language that engages with geometric shapes and forms to reimagine the language of 1960s post-minimalism and serial art. While formalist in nature, Kavula incorporates traditional shweshwe cloth into her practice, evoking cultural, ancestral, archival and historical connotations specific to her work. The process is that of excessive repetition, each dot with its own landscape of minutiae, telling of the meditative action of labour, and of the creation of new meaning through deconstruction and transformation.
Kavula obtained a BA(FA) from the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town in 2014, majoring in Printmaking. Kavula received the 2014 Katrine Harries Print Cabinet Award at the University of Cape Town and she was a founding member of the Cape Town based artist collective, iQhiya. In 2022, Kavula presented her first solo museum exhibition titled Lewatle at the Norval Foundation, in Cape Town, South Africa, as well as a solo exhibition, Soft Landing, at SMAC Gallery in Cape Town, South Africa. In 2021, she presented a solo booth at Art Basel Miami Beach, titled a re kopane ko thabeng, as well as her first solo exhibition, sewedi sewedi, at SMAC Gallery in Cape Town. Her works are included in the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) Collection in Miami, USA, and the Iziko South African National Gallery Collection in Cape Town, South Africa. This year, Kavula is set to commence an artist-in-residence programme at Fondation CAB, in Brussels, Belgium.
Go gata lebala:
Grounding Bonolo Kavula’s abstractions in ancestral memory
With spellbinding intricacy, threading, and geometric patterning on carved wood, Bonolo Kavula’s latest body of work continues her multidimensional printmaking practice. The work is titled with a Sesotho-Setswana word – Lebala – which loosely translates to ‘an open field’ or ‘yard’. Herein Kavula invites us into her intimated abstractions of working with the expanse – the expanse of the open field – of ancestral memory within literal familial threads of the historically laden shweshwe fabric.
The word ‘lebala’ is textured with socio-cultural symbolic meaning, it is rooted with metaphorical resonances of grounding oneself through the act of returning home to connect with one’s family and ancestors. During the production of this body of work this is exactly what Kavula did: she went to her late grandparents’ home in Kimberley, in the Northern Cape province of South Africa. She went home – go gata lebala – spending time inhabiting the land.
I have concluded that my artwork is ancestral work.
A calling if you will.
The artwork does not happen in isolation in studio but it follows me home –
this work has forced me to mature spiritually and in so doing
it translates in the work. My artwork is a reflection of my spiritual growth.
Beyond the transcendental significance of Kavula’s vocation, the artist’s career trajectory has also come with the illustrious success of being the inaugural winner of the 2022 Norval Foundation Sovereign African Art Prize (NSAAP).
Even though Kavula has a multifaceted artistic practice straddling various mediums, it was her winning work Tswelopele (2021) for the NSAAP that crystalized her exploratory printmaking process preoccupied with abstraction, geometry, textile, design and more recently, wood. After graduating in printmaking in her Fine Arts degree at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, Kavula has experimented with both the medium’s process-based production and its malleability.
Despite the European colonial history of the imported shweshwe fabric that Kavula makes use of, its material culture still has a socio-cultural currency and index to southern African ‘traditional’ garb. For Kavula, the fabric is also imbued in ancestral familial histories as a material heirloom after receiving her late mother’s red shweshwe dress as a gift from her great grandmother. Thus, her application of how she engages with the geometry of the shweshwe fabric creates a polyphonic visual register of ancestral memory, emblematic in her visual zeitgeist. The process of Kavula’s hanging textile print artworks involves a methodic repetition of punching shweshwe fabric into tiny discs that she glues into patterned geometries on a threaded grid where she forms organic shapes that sometimes intersect. This painstaking meditative process creates optical abstractions, deconstructed and reconstructed into new forms of shweshwe: innovatively interweaving printmaking with textile and sculpture.
Through her dedication to exploring various printmaking techniques, Kavula’s latest body of work expands into patterned wood carvings that function as a hybrid of sculptural paintings/drawings. Much like Kavula’s shweshwe textile print works, the hybrid wood carvings reveal the fluidity of her printmaking process beyond the canonical ink on paper. The woodwork is the artwork and not merely part of a process of printmaking. Kavula’s pictorial idiom of deconstructing and reconstituting materiality into new forms of patterned shapes and geometries illustrates a dedication to the expanse of printmaking’s possibilities. The eponymously titled artwork Lebala is the blueprint of this expansive processes with visual symmetrical patterns that intertwine and conceptually hybridized ideas. Lebala’s punched circular disks in colours yellow, blue and green form a pristine interlocking zigzag patterned frame that Kavula says represents the meeting points of her past-present-future self. The artwork is the first experiment the artist worked on where she was interested in a kind of interplay between shweshwe fabric’s materiality and how it could somehow be applied in other expansive printmaking mediums such as carved wood.
Kavula’s latest body of work continues her bio-poetic artistic practice of forging connections with not only the literal social fabrics of her ancestors, but also through fabricating, threading, and playing with form and materiality. She attunes us to the multiplicities of her abstract expansive printmaking practice that emphasizes material thinking as not just method and creative process – but also – as sociohistorical familial memories and ancestral constellations.