Background Information on Lwandiso Njara and his work

Growing-up in a traditional Xhosa household, Lwandiso Njara's Catholic schooling by nuns from India and Switzerland exposed him to different ideologies and technologies and his spiritual and cultural identity was thus informed by a combination of western Catholicism and ancestral rituals. He visualizes this hybrid nature of his upbringing in works poignantly questioning whether the two realms can merge as one and to what extent the technological advances have replaced the soul of a culture in a changing global environment.

Njara’s new body of work ENGINEERING THE NEW JERUSALEM III - The Digital City often blatantly merges polarities in one body through using lambs, goats, cows and white doves fused with mechanical gears and engines, all acting as signifiers for the artist's own hybrid sense of identity.

“I believe that my work resembles or explores the new contemporary robotic or technological African urban identity; indicative of what future cities and people could look like”, he says.

According to Gordon Froud, HOD of Fine Art at the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture (FADA, UJ) “…(Njara) imagines the fusion of technology and the human body as well as aspects of the animal body into a hybrid of the future. Taking the strength and instinct of the animal, the thought capacity of the human and the technical qualities of technology and combining these in an almost cyborg way into this ‘new’ creature, the African of the future. He extends this idea into machines taking on animalistic qualities almost embodying the spirit of the animal. I see his work as that of an Afrofuturist that is embracing the past and yet firmly on a trajectory to the future”.

His thematic titles and the content of his work continually alludes to the religious (Altar, God Engineering, New Jerusalem), merging it with ancestral symbols (the sacrificial goat, lamb) and technology (engineering, cogs and wheels). These threefold elements lie at the core of a recognition of the hybrid nature of his identity.

He morphs Western ideologies with his traditional Xhosa histories and cultural practise; the rural with the urban and the animalistic with technology in an effort to understand his own lived experience of a hybrid African identity in his reimagining of the future outcome of such a hybrid nature.

Njara initially focused on sculpture in concrete and bronze and had significant success with entries into national competitions, solo exhibitions and participation in major group shows during the period from 2009 to 2012. His unpolished and raw three-dimensional works, depicting animals with exposed innards consisting of various mechanisms and tools or a beheaded Madonna standing on a variety of cogs and wheels, suggest archaeological findings from a disintegrating world.

He now explores his themes primarily through drawing. In his graphite and pencil drawings the approach is more detailed, softer in texture, but powerfully positioned against an often-dark background and with distinct movement of objects – birds not flying out of natural volition, but in motion through technological intervention.

ABOUT LWANDISO NJARA

Lwandiso Njara was born in 1987 in a small Transkei village of Libode, situated in the picturesque Mpondo Valley. He still derives his inspiration from his formative years spent in this rural setting. After completing his secondary education at Port Elizabeth College, he moved to Pretoria where he completed a B Tech degree in Fine Arts at the Tshwane University of Technology.

Since then, he has exhibited regularly and has been the recipient of rewards such as the first prize in the Thami Mnyele Fine Arts competition (2012) as well as a merit award in the PPC Young Sculptor competition (2012) and a runner-up prize in the PPC competition in 2009.

The artist exhibit regularly with Lizamore and Associates and his work has been shown at the Cape Town and Turbine Art Fairs.

He currently resides in Cape Town.

ABOUT HYBRIDITY

Homi K. Bhabha [1], one of the most prominent post-colonial theorists, views the human world as “…composed of separate and unequal cultures, rather than as an integral human world…” disseminating the prevalence of “…imaginary peoples and places” (113).

Hybridisation, to him, stems from colonial relationships leading to a multicultural hybrid of the own and that of the coloniser’s identity.

According to Yannis Generalis [2], recipient of the UJ Chancellor's gold medal for most meritorious MTech (Visual Arts) research in 2020, "A broad spectrum of socio-cultural, as well as ideological 'mixing' may be examined using the lens of hybridity. When considering hybrid identities and hybrid art, we are compelled to explore visual ambiguity, contextual density and aesthetic inventiveness as evidence of creative strategies that have evolved from hybrid influences”.

“In the context of our country's post-colonial consciousness, the term 'Hybrid Vigour', when applied to the arts, may describe an intentional strategy in certain artists' work. Regenerations of expression that exhibit 'Hybrid Vigour' utilise more than one form of creative energy. In the process of accessing and activating multiple pre-existing modes, exciting new attributes begin to emerge in the artist's creative lexicon, he says."

ABOUT AFROFUTURISM

Mark Dery, an American cultural critic, lecturer and author, is credited with the conception of the term Afrofuturism in 1993. [3] Broadly perceived as an artistic movement exploring the intersection between African culture/Black politics and science and technology, this term is defined as “… a cultural aesthetic that combines science-fiction, history and fantasy to explore the African-American experience and aims to connect those from the black diaspora with their forgotten African ancestry”. [4]

The allure of techno culture has drawn support not only from visual and performing artists, musicians, writers, filmmakers and fashionista, but is also perceived by academics and researchers as a powerful creative movement addressing the future of people from African descent, their relevance in contemporary society and the creation of a more just society.

ABOUT IDENTITY

Defining identity, the Wordreference.com dictionary [5] indicates a distinct individual personality as persistent and unchanged and with distinct characteristics and homogenous representation.

The concept of identity within the postmodern epoch as proposed by 20th century philosophers such as Lyotard [6] and Baudrillard [7] [8] is however considered fluid, fragmented and unstable and always in the process of changing due to the effects of colonialization, late capitalism, globalisation and vast technological advances.

Formed by a myriad of cultural, social, economic and political influences and interactions, the postcolonial identity is a constant negotiation of the self within historical contexts and categories such as race, gender or class.

[1] Bhabha, Homi,K (1994). The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge

[2] Generalis, Yannis (2020). Excerpts from Master’s dissertation "Hybrid Vigour as creative strategy in the works of Grace Jones, Steven Cohen and my own "

[3] Dery, Mark (1993). "Black to the Future: Interviews with Samuel R. Delany, Greg Tate, and Tricia Rose". The South Atlantic Quarterly. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

[4] Art Terms. Afrofuturism. Tate Galleries, UK https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/a/afrofuturism Date unknown. (Accessed 15 02 2021).

[5] http://www.wordreference.com/definition/identity (accessed 15 02 2021)

[6] Lyotard, J-F. (1984) The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Manchester: Manchester University Press

[7] Baudrillard, J. (1988) Selected Writings. Cambridge: Polity Press

[8] Baudrillard, J. (1994a) Simulacra and Simulation. Michigan: University of Michigan Press