Southern Guild presents Unseen Dimensions of the Known by Patrick Bongoy, a wide-ranging exhibition featuring sculpture, tapestries, painting and site-specific installations, opening 4 August (until 29 September). This is the Congolese artist’s first solo since joining Southern Guild in 2021, and his fourth in South Africa since relocating here in 2013.
Bongoy’s work to date has largely reinterpreted the ongoing human and environmental erosion, violent economic extraction, forced migration and exploitation in his native DRC. Unseen Dimensions of the Known extends towards themes of wider resonance with the human condition, beyond the physical aspects of our identities, and what personal or collective liberation and fulfilment of our purpose means. Bongoy continues to create an innovative visual language with rubber and hessian, and to engage in collaboration once more with South African poet Malika Ndlovu.
Bongoy has built a multi-disciplinary practice whose central feature is his industrious and highly textural reuse of rubber from the inner tubes of tyres. Congo’s brutal past and present continue to reverberate through his work, but now the artist finds himself drawn to a deeper sense of enquiry. In Unseen Dimensions of the Known, he reaches for an ‘other’ knowledge, an untrammelled humanity that binds us.
In its usual form, rubber is inert and impermeable, absorbent of almost all light and colour. Bongoy’s studio operates like a factory in reverse, transforming stockpiles of the industrial material into various states of textile-like plasticity through manual intervention. Deployed in both figurative and abstract scenarios, it takes on an expressivity that surprises, satisfies and confronts; here falling like drapery, there forming armour-like platelets. Through his intensely physical engagement with his medium – by cutting, stitching, weaving, braiding, wrestling with and manipulating his materials – he is reaching, paradoxically, for the unseen.
The artist states:
What begins to unfold when we dare to go beyond a knowing only through our five senses and the stories we are told or taught to believe? At the thresholds of what we perceive as reality, beyond the fixed frames of identity projected onto our bodies, are further dimensions of our humanity: we are – and hold – so much more.
Between the physical and metaphysical realms the veils to the unseen are always shifting, revealing the uncontainable or immeasurable aspects of ourselves, our spirits. As we migrate from one life station or location to another, our landscape of memory grows with us. Our bodies archive experience at a cellular level and those we are part of, whom we come from, travel with us. Our foundational breath moving through the earth of the body, is the element of the wind carrying coded messages along blood rivers in our veins. These rivers also connect us to our ancestral pathways as we are part of an ever-expanding web of life and death.
The gravity and burdens of our physical lives can be understood by exploring a wider lens, a deep listening, offering attention to all our hauntings. What possibilities and perspectives emerge when we give permission for these ancestral voices and intangible parts of ourselves to be expressed and embraced? Can there be relief, transformation or even liberation in acknowledging and honouring them?
ABOUT MALIKA NDLOVU
Malika Ndlovu’s words and productions have appeared on pages and stages both locally and globally. As a poet, playwright, performer and arts administrator her contribution to South African arts, culture and poetry specifically, spans over 25 years. Ndlovu has published two plays and five poetry collections, and features prominently in Our Words, Our Worlds: Writing on Black South African Women Poets, 2000 – 2018, edited by Makhosazana Xaba (UKZN Press, 2019). Her next collection, Grief Seed, will be published later this year. Consistently promoting healing through creativity, she is a member of the Arts in Psychosocial Support national network of practitioners.