Below are my most prominent series that have formed a part of my oeuvre since I first started sculpting professionally during my final two years of study in 2015/2016.
No Man's Land
This extensive and ongoing series, which first began to take shape during my third year of study at the Michaelis School of Fine Art (2015), was inspired by Yasuke (pronounced yas-kay), a man who was taken from his native country in East Africa and ended up working for a powerful feudal lord in late 16th-century Japan.
Yasuke is the only known Samurai of African descent in recorded history and played an integral part in the unification of the feudal states of Japan. He was brought to the Far East along with a company of Jesuit missionaries in 1579. Here he rapidly attracted the attention of local military leader, Oda Nobunaga, because of his tall stature and dark skin tone, which the Japanese people were relatively unfamiliar with at the time. One of the only verifiable references to Yasuke comes from Nobunaga's journal, where he tells a little anecdote of when Yasuke was asked to go and scrub the "ink" out of his skin.
His proficiency for learning the Japanese language aided in his ascent to a position close to Nobunaga in various military conquests right up until Nobunaga's defeat in a coup in 1582. Even then, Yasuke was chosen to return Nobunaga's decapitated head and personal belongings to the family of the overthrown leader, which was a great honour for a foreigner during this period of early colonial expansion and renewed nationalist and imperialist tenets. He refused to follow his master in death by ritual suicide, and his fate beyond Nobunaga's fall and probable reunification with the Jesuits is unknown.
This series aims to explore Yasuke's legacy of cross-cultrual exchange and shifts the focus back to a common ancestor from humanity's heroic past that can be elevated instead of torn down in the wake of rising socio-political and racial tensions across the globe.
The original series was constructed out of five different interpretations/articulations/imaginings of a 16th-century Mesoamerican woman, who was commonly known as La Malinche. She was raised in servitude under the Aztec ruler, Moctezuma II, during the era of the Spanish Conquest. She rose to historical importance around 1519, when she came into contact with Hernán Cortés and his company of Conquistadores in her native Mexico. It is said "La Malinche" (a name likely given to her by the Aztecs among who she lived her early life, meaning "outsider", as she was from the Nahua people), was gifted to Cortés as a gesture of good faith from Moctezuma II.
Her proficiency at Spanish quickly led to her becoming invaluable as an interpreter to the Conquistadores and she formed a close relationship with Cortés, bearing him a son: the first noble-born child of mixed heritage in Mexico. In 1521, it is said that she became the key to Spanish victory in the battle for the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán.
The role she played in the destruction of the entire Aztec empire, which culminated in the fall of Tenochtitlán in 1521, led to La Malinche being vilified as a national traitress. She became an icon of inertia, disloyalty and subversion. This mythology re-articulated itself in various different forms over the next five centuries, and references to La Malinche formed the undercurrents of deeply polarised characters such as La Llorona, a bogeywoman from local legend, and even the Virgin of Guadalupe, a saint-like figure from Christian canons in Mexico.
This series draws parallels between La Malinche and an indigenous South African woman named "Eva Krotoa", whose personal story and influence on local history follows closely in the footsteps of La Malinche in Mesoamerica nearly 120 years earlier. It explores the ever-evolving and deep-rooted dichotomy of traitress/saviour that has plagued feminine identity for five hundred years. It attempts to re-establish a sense of autonomy for these controversial figures from our very recent past in order to build a selfhood independent from the male gaze and the stain of Western colonial thought for women in postcolonial societies today.
I first started to explore this series of anthropomorphic chair sculptures during my third year at Michaelis School of Fine Arts for our first self-motivated sculpture project. I wanted to incorporate the use of recycled rubber and upcycled/found furniture items to create an art object that is simultaneously alluring and repulsive to the viewer. I carved these female torsos out of polystyrene blocks and meticulously wrapped them in thin strips of inner tyre tubing, which was pinned into the polystyrene. Around 2000+ sewing pins are used on the original set of three chairs (pictured as installation art in the Michaelis School of Fine Art library, 2015).
The armless and headless torsos are almost reminiscent of early Classical sculpture busts glorifying the virtuous female form. This elevation of femininity stands in strong contrast to the sewing pins binding the rubber - a reference to the societal expectations of domesticity that beset female-identifying people. The rubber itself further speaks to the objectification and loss of autonomy that women (self-identifying and AFAB) suffer in everyday life, even in our supposedly enlightened post-modern, post-revolution age.
This tenet of thought has been carried through in different articulations within this series, the latest of which (Thus Always To Tyrants, 2022), was sculpted as a response to the overturning of the Roe v. Wade precedent in the United States of America and the demeaning denial of bodily autonomy to all citizens with a uterus - and this coming from a country that prides itself on its self-assigned title of "Leader of the Free World."
The Fall is an attempt to unpack the regression of our society in terms of gender equality and the tightening chokehold of the conservative, religious, patriarchal state on women today. The series title is in reference to Christian Biblical mythology that tells us of the first woman being created in subservience to the first man - and the resulting vilification of Eve after she became the scapegoat for humanity's inherent quest for knowledge and independence that led to a forced breakaway from blind faith and the structured "safety" of conservative religion.
The Flower That Blooms Alone
This series pivots around a deeper exploration of the legacy of Yasuke and cross-cultural exchange during the early colonial period in Africa. Building on the hypothesis that Yasuke returned to the motherland with the company of Jesuits (that originally brough him to the Far East) after his lord Nobunaga's death in 1582, The Flower That Blooms Alone unpacks the impact that Yasuke had on the ways in which local societies responded to colonial expansion in Africa.
In this sense, the legacy of Yasuke is two-fold: on the one hand, the heroic male image of this servant-turned-Samurai prompted a flare-up of feminine empowerment in opposition to this stereotypical masculinity, especially the military sphere. On the other hand, Yasuke set this example of an individual from an oppressed people who embraced foreign culture and established a sense of autonomy and revere for himself in a land on the other side of the globe without allowing the complete degradation of his own heritage and traditions.
These works articulate Yasuke's legacy in the form of Angolan warrior-queen, Nzinga Mbandi (c. 1583 - 1663), who is most commonly remembered for her qualities as a skilled negotiator, and for heading fierce resistance against Portuguese colonial forces in East Africa. She continues to be celebrated as an founding entity of African nation-building and postcolonial identity in both historical and fictional narratives throughout the following four hundred years since her lifetime.