Senzo Shabangu’s art highlights struggles of migrants

Some of his work reflects personal experiences

Senzo Shabangu’s work confronts the problem of living. From his first solo exhibition titled ‘Naked Pressure’ to the latest ‘My World’ held at David Krut Projects last month, Shabangu uses his art to tackle the day-to-day struggles young people face; especially those who’ve migrated from remote areas to the cities.

It’s become a well known South African tale- men who leave their homes behind in search of a better life. Shabangu’s work speaks to the harsh realities of migration, with his linocut prints reflecting his own hardhips, frustrations and joys. A prime example is his self-portraiture series titled ‘Self-Portraits’. In them one notices a male figure standing on the top of the world with a hammer in his left hand and the nail in the other. It is mapped with an array of images; possibly a man at work; hammering and chiseling and nailing his world into a shape of his dreams. The title is “Lord Remind Me Who I Am.”

It’s not only personal experiences Shabangu expresses, but also his perspective on the sprawling city- His first solo exhibition dealt with the conflicting reality of coming from a rural village and is a subject the artist knows well, having moved to the bustling city of Johannesburg from a small village in Mpumalanga almost a decade ago.
His work is extensive as it is insightful. Naked Pressure portrays the Joburg cityscape upside down – a concept born from lived experiences in the city- the personal stress and pressure that comes with urban life, daily frustrations with irksome landlords, the infamous Polly Street known for its prostitution market and the lost dreams of once-enthusiastic youth. With its detailed lines and bold colours he addresses issues of inequality and forced removals; having been a victim of the ‘Red Ants’ in his early years in the City of Gold.

Boxed Belongings

Boxed Belongings

Using mediums including charcoal, sculpture and printmaking; Shabangu has grown to champion the technique of relief, a printmaking technique, which is a variant of woodcut in which a sheet of linoleum is carved. His specialty in this linoleum (linocut) medium – dates back to the 1860s and was used by the artists of Die Brücke in Germany between 1905 and 1913. Shabangu also uses Ink wash in his work.

After completing a three year course in printmaking at Artist Proof Studio in 2008, Shabangu was awarded the David Koloane Award in 2010 – which promotes the Bag Factory’s philosophy of learning through creative exchange. Following the award, the rising artist took part in a group exhibition with visiting artists from overseas, titled ‘Losing Virginity’.

Shabangu delves into the complex political landscape and the tumultuous nature of African countries and speaks to the political, social, cultural and economic realities he has faced. He uses local languages in his visual interpretation, such as his work titled Ixhapozi, the Zulu word for Swamp. In this work beds, human figures and buildings float about, dislocated and displaced, as those who suffer the inequalities facing the majority of South Africans. Boxes are used as a metaphor for the power possessed by the elites, they own the poor, who are placed inside the boxes.

A growing activist and social commentator in his own right, Shabangu is an artist to look out for.