Mbali Tshabalala is a multidisciplinary artist, curator, and creative entrepreneur. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art from the Tshwane University of Technology, studied printmaking at Artist Proof Studios and has a background in graphic design. Tshabalala is currently an artist in residency at Asisebenze Art Atelia (AAA), a newly formed vibrant and energetic studio space directed by celebrated art writer Ashraf Jamal. Tshabalala has an ongoing relationship with and collaborates with institutions such as David Krut Projects, Pretoria Arts Association and Constitution Hill. Tshabalala’s work is consigned in several galleries in major cities such as Johannesburg, Cape Town and Detroit and is in collections such as the JP Morgan Chace and William Humphries Art Gallery. In addition to working as curator and art administrator for the past seven years, Tshabalala has been practising as a full-time artist since 2019. Her works appear in art competitions such as Sasol New Signatures and the Thami Mnyele Fine Art Award and art auctions by Aspire Art Auction and Strauss & Co. Tshabalala is also the founder of the Collective UNTITLD.
My artistic practice is an ongoing interrogation of ideals around states of being/existence as a phenomenon affected by race, gender, religion and philosophy. I find myself in a liminal space, transitioning from notions of myself as defined by womanhood and blackness. This body of work is an expression of my current state of being as I attempt to un-condition myself. Nonetheless, these identity categories are embedded in me and inform the person I am. I use photography to capture glimpses of a perceived self and the selfie/silhouette as a necessary means of constructing a new series of narratives. Through my oil-based paper lithography, I use the layering of the multiple printmaking techniques symbolically to reference the complexity of reality. My artistic processes include chine
The creative exploration of the self is one of the intrinsic drives of an artist, primarily the phenomenon of becoming (or even unbecoming) reflective as a conscious subject. When this exploration is concerned with the restraining conditions, this becoming is mainly a conscious development of critical practice, a creative manner of looking at and engaging social life and cultural sentiments that become prescriptive roles and expectations. What is most concerning in this situation is not only the governing but conditioning of the self by socio-cultural sensibilities, which turn, obliging traditions on contemporary society.
This exhibition explores the politics of identity and existence, A never fixed self and potentiality and actuality as a means of interpreting one’s existence. The idea that we are invariably influenced and shaped by society is not new; everything is in flux and an ever-present change. Tshabalala’s work embodies thematic expressions of one’s identity, metaphorically juxtaposed over abstract backgrounds which reference society’s expectations. In her works, Tshabalala is both the subject and the artist, making each image a self-reflection and a commentary on the varying scales at which society deems fit to interpret one. This exhibition is about becoming or unbecoming and reconciling the rationality of one’s beliefs.
This undertaking of creative exploration and becoming is as complex as is liberatory; when the artist’s drive is an introspective quest and a dialectical adventure of that which is both outside and inside the self. A ‘self’ becoming consciously reflective of its subjectivity and agency, which could pair as an agentive subjectivity so necessary for a transcendental engagement of being in the world, an existential awareness of oneself as a reflective subject searching for human ideals or possibilities to be human. At stake here is the question of one’s existence as a political matter, in the sense that we comprehend politics as power relations, the contestation of whose right, sovereignty, meaning, value, culture, identity, aesthetic, perspective, belief or faith that matters.