Ritual, identity and representation
Mgcineni (Pro) Sobopha was born in South Africa in 1967. He studied Fine Art at the University of Cape Town. He is recognised for his series of work on the controversial Xhosa male circumcision ritual called ‘ulwaluko’. Paintings, drawings and mixed media works deal with issues of identity and male representation, confronting the use and abuse of the black body in contemporary South Africa.
South African artist Mgcineni Sobopha was born in 1967 in the Transkei region. Also known as Pro Sobopha, he lives and works in Cape Town where he is based at the Greatmore Studios in Woodstock. He graduated from the Fine Art department of the University of Cape Town in 1998 and gained a Master’s degree in 2001.
During his studies Sobopha worked with various community arts and teaching programmes. He was a facilitator for a children’s stories mural at St George’s Cathedral, Cape Town in 1998, under the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He also undertook various art and education work with schools, a museum, a hospital and a community arts project in Cape Town and the Western Cape region. In 2000 he was a Lecturer in drawing in the Department of Architecture at the University of Cape Town. He has been involved in several conferences and seminars on the politics of art, representation and images of masculinity in Cape Town. He has recently undertaken research commissioned by Blac to survey the numbers and level of activity of black artists in Cape Town and identify their needs.
Mgcineni Sobopha’s main concern in his art work to date has been a particular Xhosa ritual called ‘ulwaluko’ (male initiation). The controversial debates, tensions, politics and conflicts around this male circumcision ritual, a current practice in contemporary South Africa, have been the impulse for the production of an extended series of drawings, paintings and mixed media works. He explains, ‘The work deals with issues of identity and its representation, masculinity in particular. It is a manifestation that deals with and confronts the use, abuse and ultimate “refusal” of the black body and its position/ing in the post-apartheid South African visual art arena, which is still dominated by artists of European descent.’
Sobopha presented his first solo exhibition ‘Skins, Scars, Blankets and Blood’ in 2002 at the Association for Visual Arts Metropolitan Gallery in Cape Town. Here he showed a series of ‘paintings’, constructed from sheepskin, blanket, cow dung and pieces of fabric. Based on his own experience of circumcision and of seeing the ritual performed on others, the energetic, physical work evoked a visceral response in reviewer Paul Edmunds. ‘In most works a flayed sheepskin spreads across the format, flush with a ground made of cow dung. The surfaces are scored, burnished and coloured, and are as beautiful as they are brutal.’ The critic applauded the artist’s ‘ability to compose and manipulate materials and formal elements’. He recognised that Sobopha exposed the ritual as more than a harsh physical event but ‘one that is bound into a social fabric and situated within a continuum of tradition’.
In 2003 Mgcineni Pro Sobopha was part of a group exhibition ‘Circumcised, Circumscribed’ at Axis Gallery in New York with six male South African artists dealing with the theme in different ways. He exhibited images of circumcisions and mutilations branded into the type of blankets used by Xhosa initiates.
Sobopha participated in the Thupelo artists workshop at the South African National Gallery in 2003. He was invited to the UK in 2002 as artist in residence at Bangor Museum and Art Gallery in Wales in connection with the Genius Loci (Spirit of the Place) project initiated by Group 75 artists group. He showed work in the ‘Spirit of the Place’ touring show which was seen in galleries in Wales and South Africa in 2002-03.
Sobopha states: ‘The world we are living in is replete with cultural boundaries and bridges, which often define our personalities. My work is both a private and a public practice. It is a dialogue that I hope can move and translate from one context to another, from the private to the public sphere, and from local to international art arenas where diverse cultures and experiences have a stake and can contribute.’
Mgcineni (Pro) Sobopha was born in Engcobo, Transkei, South Africa in 1967. He studied Fine Art at the University of Cape Town, gaining a BA in 1998 and an MFA in 2001. He has undertaken an extended series of work on the controversial Xhosa male circumcision ritual called ‘ulwaluko’. He makes paintings, often incorporating unconventional materials such as sheepskin, blanket and cow dung to depict the visceral nature of the work. Sobopha has received several grants and scholarships, including a National Arts Council Bursary. He lives and works in Cape Town, now based at the Greatmore Studios.
GROUP EXHIBITIONS (Selected)
Exhibition / Installation
2003 ´Circumcised/Circumscribed´, Axis Gallery, New York
2002 ´Absolute Voyeur´, AVA Gallery, Cape Town
2001-02 ´Spirit of the Place´, touring exhibition to galleries in Wales, UK and South Africa
2001 ´Brainstorm´, ArtsCape, Cape Town
1999 ´Unplugged no:5´, Market Theatre Gallery, Johannesburg
1998 ´Disnag´, Slave Lodge/cultural museum, Cape Town
Exhibition / Installation
2002 ´Skins, Scars, Blankets and Blood´, Association for Visual Arts Metropolitan Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa
2002 Artist in residence, Bangor Museum and Gallery, Wales, UK
GRANTS & SCHOLARSHIPS
2001 University Committee scholarship
2000-01 National Arts Council bursary
2000 Jules Krammer Music and Fine Art scholarship
1999-2001 Irma Stern Scholarship
1999 National Research Fund Scholarship
Contemporary artists magazine. Reviews and full CV for artist.
Review of 2003 show with images
Artists biography, images and statement - under Resident Artists.