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A broad survey of Hlungwani’s remarkable artistic practice

Jackson Hlungwani: Alt and Omega, a sculpture retrospective, is currently on show at the Norval Foundation. The Jackson Hlungwane exhibition is a spiritual experience – it takes one to another level.  

In 1978, Hlungwani experienced a vision while in a deeply abject and suicidal state brought about by painful lesions that had affected his right leg for some time. In the vision, Christ and two figures appeared to him and made three promises – that he would be healed, that he would see God and that he would become a preacher. This vision was the defining moment of his life, and of his career as an artist. Although he had completed sculptural works prior to this event, Hlungwani’s artistic output and the complexity of his practice radically increased thereafter.

The exhibition, Alt and Omega: Jackson Hlungwani, offers a broad survey of Hlungwani’s remarkable artistic practice from the 1960s to his death in 2010. Bringing together key works from his career, the exhibition includes Hlungwani’s two altars from his New Jerusalem site at Mbhokota in Limpopo province as well as four of his early crucifixes. These four remarkable works have never been exhibited together before. Co-curator of the exhibition, Amos Letsoalo, commented that “Hlungwani’s sculpture, although not well known, is of importance not only locally in South Africa but, in time, will surely be recognised as having a significant place amongst the great traditions of art in the world.”

While Hlungwani was familiar with city life, having worked in Johannesburg, his creative life was situated far from an urban artistic hub. He developed an artistic genre that was inextricably linked to his spiritual practices, creating an innovative visual language that integrated popular culture with traditions of Tsonga-Shangaan wood carving, and biblical narratives with African spirituality. “One of the most exciting aspects of this exhibition is its exploration of the possible links between Hlungwani’s religious practice and an African Christianity established 1600 years ago in Ethiopia,” says co-curator Nessa Leibhammer.

Norval Foundation Chief Executive, Elana Brundyn, says, “We’re honoured to present a carefully curated retrospective exhibition of this remarkable artist. It is an unfortunate reality that Jackson Hlungwani and his work remains little known by many South Africans. Norval Foundation is therefore proud to make his extraordinary work accessible to the public.”

Jackson Hlungwani

This exhibition forms part of Norval Foundation’s commitment to recognise and research South African artists from the 20th century, whose contributions to the discourse of the visual arts have, until recently, lacked the full recognition and appreciation they deserve. Karel Nel, co-curator of the exhibition, says that while Hlungwani received some critical recognition during his lifetime, his prolific, innovative and spiritually-informed output deserves to be much more widely known, here in South Africa, on the continent and globally.

Alt and Omega: Jackson Hlungwani received commendation from international auction house, Sotheby’s, making Norval Foundation the first visual art institution in Africa, and one of five globally to be commended by Sotheby’s for curatorial excellence. The late Okwui Enwezor, renowned curator, and one of the adjudicators of the Sotheby’s Prize committee, was passionate that this exhibition should take place to honour Jackson Hlungwani’s significance as a remarkable sculptor of the twentieth century.

WHAT & WHEN: Alt and Omega: Jackson Hlungwani – curated by Nessa Leibhammer, Amos Letsoalo and Karel Nel, the exhibition will run until 26 July 2021.
WHERE:  Norval Foundation, 4 Steenberg Road, Tokai, Cape Town  7945
INFO Visit  I  E

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