I first encountered Turiya Magadlela’s work at the FNB Joburg Art Fair in 2015, where – as the FNB prizewinner (judged by the highly respected curators Bisi Silva and Koyo Kouoh) – her installation of awkwardly stacked prison beds and institutional sheeting received pride of place. To be frank, I was not overwhelmed. Although the work had considerable presence, beds have been the subject of so many installations over the years. At the time, I also saw some of Magadlela’s early pantyhose works, which I thought were more original in their materiality.
It was in September 2017, in a show at Blank Projects in Cape Town, that I really reacted strongly to her new work. The somewhat tentative quality of the earlier pantyhose works had given way to a sophisticated and assured use of her fragile yet strong material, with its intimate feminine associations. The looping arcs of translucent fabric in sombre black stretched over canvas in the series My womb is at fault (2015) suggested not only the anguished bodily reference of the title, but a maze of dark underground passages from which one might not emerge, or an unsolvable intellectual conundrum.
The cut-and-stitched nylon pantyhose stretched over canvas produce remarkably powerful abstracts, sometimes joyful and exuberant, sometimes sombre. The material visually transcends its beginnings as women’s underwear, yet the viewer's knowledge of its history, and the way in which the fabric has been cut and stitched and stretched adds layers of meaning to the work which could not have been conveyed by paint.
And in a completely different vein, in Sithanda Ubuhlungu intoko igazi nenzondo & Inzonzo zabantsundu ziphumelela ngoba sijabuliswa yimyazwe, intokozo, nokwesaba (2017), blocks of fabric in brilliant scarlet, pinks and oranges suggest an exuberant celebration of womanhood, a refusal to allow oneself to be downtrodden.
Magadlela herself has been quoted as saying, ‘I make my work from my personal life experiences. I don’t make social or political commentary. Should my work seem or look political, that makes me happy. I always want to leave it open to the viewer’s personal interpretation, and I find that talking about a work you made or writing about it narrows down the meaning that it is supposed to have.’
Turiya Magadlela lives and works in Johannesburg. She has had six solo exhibitions to date: at the Johannesburg Art Gallery; Museum Africa, Johannesburg; and Blank Projects, Cape Town. She has participated in recent group exhibitions including Blue Black (Pulitzer Arts Foundation, St Louis, 2017) and Simple Passion, Complex Vision: The Darryl Atwell Collection (Gantt Center, Charlotte, 2017). Most recently her work has been included in Looking Back... Moving Forward, an exhibition at Constitution Hill, Johannesburg
From the January & February 2018 issue of ArtReview, in association with K11 Art Foundation