Born in Tshwane in 1993, Katlego Tlabela is a multi-disciplined contemporary artist. Tlabela is a self-taught painter who has exploratively worked in photography, printmaking, sound and sculptural installation. The artist’s work examines social and political crises in post-Apartheid South Africa, inciting dialogue around race, class and representation.
Though born in Tshwane, Tlabela spent much of his childhood in Cape Town. Some of his earliest memories involve the making of art – he and his cousins would draw cities and roads in the sand while visiting their grandparents in Limpopo. His interest in becoming an artist was fortified over the course of his high school years. He would spray paint customised graffiti tags on the bags and book covers of his peers to earn extra money.
Although trained in printmaking at Michaelis School of Fine Art in CT, Tlabela has always been reluctant to categorise his style. His paintings, composed of vividly coloured acrylic, ink and collage on canvas, have garnered increasing international attention. Resistance, protest, discourse around race, and positive modes of representation of the Black body and experience are visualised through text-based and visual works that revisit history and relate it back to the contemporary milieu. The political and personal merges through Tlabela’s work, with both pride and a declarative sense of self.
The artist’s multi-panelled tableaux build highly-stylised domestic spaces, offering the viewer an almost voyeuristic lens into the lives of the newly imagined and real Black elite. Tlabela’s construction of these worlds is decidedly postmodern; he splices together references from popular culture, recognisable South African brands, cut-out figures from magazines, reappropriated texts, renowned art and design. These domestic scenes form part of the artist’s ongoing body of work, Nouveau Riche. “The idea is to challenge the now normalised image of the suffering and impoverished Black Body,” he explains.
Tlabela has participated in group exhibitions throughout Africa and has also exhibited extensively abroad, including at Ganda the Rhino Project in Brazil, Poland, and Portugal (2014-2015); Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain in Paris, France (2021) and at Frieze Art Fair in New York, USA (2021). In 2022, Tlabela was welcomed as an artist-in-residence at Southern Guild’s GUILD Residency in Cape Town. His first international solo, Feels like Summer, was held in Switzerland in 2023.
Tlabela is currently based between Tshwane, Johannesburg and Cape Town.