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Celebrated artist Thonton Kabeya to headline at WAM with solo show 'Introspect'

A sneak peek into the upcoming solo show by Thonton Kabeya

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By Edwain Steenkamp | August 8, 2023 | Art

It’s shaping up to be a huge summer for Thonton Kabeya. On 15 August, the artist’s solo exhibition, Introspect, opens a Wits Art Museum (WAM) in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.

This large-scale display, at one of South Africa’s most important museums, will offer a glimpse into the artist’s inner and spiritual worlds and process. Equally, it will illustrate how Kabeya’s art delves into the richness of being human, and African specifically. Of it, he says, “having a survey show in such a space will play a big role in my career. I’m very honoured to use this opportunity to share my artistic view”.

The artist, Thonton Kabeya. Image: Thys Dullaart

Introspect is not a retrospective. Rather, it serves as a highlights package of the work that the Democratic Republic of Congo-born Kabeya has created in his ten years of living in Johannesburg. “It is an introspection of a decade of living and working in the city”, he says.

‘Self portrait’ by Thonton Kabeya. Image: Supplied
‘Tablet Series VIII’ by Thonton Kabeya. Image: Supplied

The collection of works that will line the walls of WAM is testament to the 40-year-old’s fine skill and dedication to his craft. Many of his paintings and assemblages evoke Kabeya’s youth in the DRC, but nevertheless are of subject matter that is universally relatable. They range from joyful works that celebrate the everydayness of people – children playing, lovers dancing, gentleman having their hair cut – to layered, more abstract works made with his trademark material, deep brown walnut powder.

That this onetime basketball player turned artist has been drawing all his life and takes his work and its development seriously, is evident throughout the show. As is the impact of the city he has called home for a decade.

‘Three Faces’ by Thonton Kabeya. Image: Supplied

“I’ve lived all over, Paris and Spain included, and I think coming to Joburg marked a big shift in my career. Africa provides something that you possibly only notice when you’ve lived elsewhere. It’s a sort of push for creativity”, he says.

In the City of Gold, Kabeya, whose career started out in sculpture, began to experiment with a new style of painting – one with its influence rooted in that earlier medium. The artworks in this style, which he calls

‘Sculpting Canvas’, merge traditional painting and some of the dimensionality and depth of sculpture. They are layered and complex and made from found objects, paint, collage, newspaper, and the likes. These works also amalgamate and move between figurative and abstract styles.

‘Pasada IV’ by Thonton Kabeya. Image: Supplied

This mid-career display also dovetails elegantly with a solo booth of Kabeya’s new work that Everard Read gallery will be exhibiting at FNB Art Joburg from 8 –10 September. This smaller, commercial offering is an equally good example of the artist’s exciting, engaging work.