Nicholas Hlobo’s work Chitha is made of a number of interesting objects and materials. These include a “dumb valet”, a piece of furniture usually used by men to hang a jacket on.
Read what Nicholas Hlobo says about this artwork:
“The bottom part is a woman wearing a rubber dress, stitched with pink ribbon, and a white frill with pink bows. The rubber has very phallic valves, as if you have to blow her up. She is lifting up a man, who is suggested by a brown suit jacket draped over a wooden dumb valet. The woman … has this power that she can lift a man. She’s in charge of the situation. She’s lifting the man right up against the wall. The man is not taking this easily.
“The shoulders belong to both of them – they’re bound together like Siamese twins, or someone with a multiple personality disorder. She’s wearing a shawl made of black silicon, the colour of mourning. Black absorbs energy, so the woman is taking all the energy from the man … She’s going to fling him over and take his position.
“There’s an old saying, ‘The black woman’s power is in her neck’. Black women carry these large weights on their heads … they light braziers full of coals, then carry these hot braziers on top of their heads … The reason they take the risk of breaking their necks, or having hot coals burn them, is because they’re working hard to provide for their families. Most of them play a very strong role in the running of their household.
“This work is looking at the idea of women being empowered to take charge of everything. And maybe there are women hidden in some men’s bodies.
“‘Chitha’ can also refer to destroying something. If this woman is taking over the man’s role and chucking her husband over her shoulder, putting him behind her, she’s destroying existing conditions … Men are being taken out of their comfort zones, which is the effect of our sexual identity politics on our heterosexual society.”
Talk About This
In small groups, read this again, and then talk about what Nicholas Hlobo is saying. Explain all of your answers, and try to give concrete examples if possible.
Do you agree that the roles and power relations between men and women are changing?
Do you think women are becoming stronger or more empowered in South African society? Is this true (or not) across all of South African society?
Do you agree that men are “being taken out of their comfort zones”?
And what might Hlobo mean when he says, “maybe there are women hidden in some men’s bodies”?
Look again at the artwork. Hlobo explains very clearly in his own words how this work embodies his ideas. But what does this work say to you? Imagine being next to the actual, full-size work in a room. How do you feel, looking at it? How do its non-traditional materials help to convey its meaning?