Skip to content

Meet Bonolo Kavula, the most exciting voice in contemporary African art

The winner of the Norval Foundation Sovereign African Prize talks process, humanisation, and transcendence

By House & Garden South Africa | February 21, 2022 | Art

‘I’m not a journalist, but my work is a way for me to archive the experiences and memories of people I encounter that impact my outlook.’

Multidisciplinary artist Bonolo Kavula creates with the acute awareness that the work she does will outlive her so it needs to humanise her and those who come across it. Her uncontrived expressions in print, video, performance and comic art come from a reflective place and allow viewers to engage them intuitively.

Image: Supplied

It’s that ability to transcend contexts and make connections with each personal interpretation, despite having very personal meanings to the artist, that captivates audiences from all walks of life. ‘I allow the materials I use to resonate with whoever sees that work in a way that is unique to them. I don’t want to limit what the viewer may think or feel when they see the work, I don’t want to prescribe meaning,” says Bonolo, in an explanation about her process. Bonolo, who was recently named the Norval Foundation Sovereign African Prize laureate, says that each creation begins with the tedious task of laying the foundation for the form that each artwork will take.

Image: Supplied

‘I developed my visual language when I was a student. It was in my final year of studying that I had my breakthrough and the concept was developed by experimenting in the print studio for about two years. I read up a lot on conceptual and abstract art and understood that one had to find a visual language of their own. I searched for mine by playing in the studio until, one day, by chance I was able to find a process that worked,’ she says. Kavula’s work appears simple, but its creation involves a meticulous method of punching materials to create tiny discs and then joining them with measured lines of thread. Having fashioned her own art formula as a student, Kavula now works with it to find interesting ways to reinvent that idea to look compelling with each artwork.

Image: Supplied

On her winning work, titled Tswelopele, Kavula explains ‘It was unexpected and became a real challenge for me to rise to the occasion when Andrea Lewis who, a curator at the Iziko National Art Gallery, nominated me for the Norval Sovereign Art Prize. I immediately started envisioning a winning artwork, and for the first time, I took a risk in terms of design by adding geometric shapes and also leaving negative spaces in the work not knowing if the thread would hold or not. I just knew I had to make something different. It's easy to cruise along and comfortably make work as per usual until an opportunity like this comes along and it forces you to go back to the basics of why and how you make your work and to improve your craft.’

Words Jabulile Dlamini-Qwesha