15 October 2010 by Dianne Tipping-Woods

A dialogue between stone, bone, wood and steel

Strangely familiar wooden shapes cast long shadows onto the floor of the exhibition space. As I circle each piece, I can see how it has been shaped by nature and history as much as by the artist, Pikita Ntuli. I notice the different textures of the wood, its mellow tones contrasting with metal protrusions. They have been forced into the wood. Some are spokes, some nails, some chains.  They are weapons and scars. From one side of the sculpture I see them, from the other side I don’t.

There is pain and aspiration in the shapes as I think of them as having been rooted and alive, then literally cut off. Carved up. Chained down. They have names, like Toussaint-l’Ouverture, Rivonia, Home, Uprising and Emergence. The themes of growth and transience take on human and historic dimensions. The wood burns.

The patina of the bones has a different feel - something primal and essential emanates from their elongated forms. These are the structural components of all living things and the gritty reality of decay is evident in places. I become very aware of my own body, my bones. Here, they are exposed and stripped bare.

Unburied, I find their contradictions obscene and yet comforting. I feel persistence, healing and strength in their forms. They demand recognition and remain anonymous; the same and yet something different to what they once were. In places, broken bones expose metal plinths, splint and even bolts. It is a strange kind of human engineering, both precarious and terrifying. The bones stir.

These are the structural components of all living things and the gritty reality of decay is evident in places. I become very aware of my own body, my bones. Here, they are exposed and stripped bare.

Laid out in this public space at the Museum Africa, Ntuli’s experience is becoming mine and yet as I am arrested by the detail in his stone carvings - which are grounded, organic, obstinate - this feeling recedes and his experience is his own again.

My eyes are intrigued at the detail and movement contained within solid shells of stone. It is hard not to reach out and touch them. I imagine them feeling cool, smooth and permanent. The shapes are restless as though disturbed by a dream and I withdraw, allowing them to settle back into an ancient stillness. The stone breathes.

As I move into the fourth and final exhibition space, the rust and jagged shapes are jarring. The tools are literal, the associations metaphoric. I think of mining and hard labor - the backbones of our country - and in the rust - see the industrial revolution juxtaposed with South Africa’s contemporary politics. The hard steel forms are informed by a dialogue between time, space and personal experience and betray a deliberate irony. The sculptures shout “Who are we? Where are we?  Why are we here?”

I stand still for a long time, listening for answers from the bones, the stones and the wood. There is a strange vulnerability to the steel forms as they wait with me for the answers that may or may not come.

Pikita Ntuli’s exhibition ‘Scent of invisible footsteps in moments of complexity’ is on at the Museum Africa until 31 August 2010. Look out for his book Scent of Invisible Footprints: The Sculpture of Pitika Ntuli, which incorporates his poetry and prose.

Category: Culture & History

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