Soweto-born artist explores ideas of home and belonging through new exhibition



Published Oct 18, 2023


Soweto-born multidisciplinary artist and the 2023 Blessing Ngobeni Art Prize Winner, Tshepo Phokojoe, is excited to be presenting his first solo exhibition at Everard Read CIRCA Gallery.

The exhibition, which explores the ideas of home, nest, and womb through hessian cloth, opened on October 14 and runs until October 21.

According to this self-taught multidisciplinary artist with a background in visual arts and fashion, this exhibition titled: ‘Woven Comforts’ aims to evoke a strong emotional connection and nostalgia.

Tshepo Phokojoe. Supplied

Phokojoe says by using hessian cloth as a medium, the show invites visitors to reflect on their inherent human desires for comfort, safety, and belonging home.

“The inspiration for the show stemmed from the concept of homesickness and the exploration of whether home is a physical place or a feeling,” Phokojoe says.

For him, this exhibition represents a deeper and personal exploration of home and the concept of belonging.

“The show represents a deeply personal exploration of the concept of home as a Sowetan. During a visit to KZN, my distinct Johannesburg accent made it clear that I was not originally from there, sparking thoughts about belonging and the absence of a sense of place. I questioned whether, to progress, we need to create a new culture, a new language or if we should embrace the unfamiliar.

“Through this exhibition, I aim to prompt viewers to reconnect with elements that we often overlook due to our preoccupation with our differences.”

He adds that the use of hessian cloth as a canvas allows for these profound concepts to come alive as intricately woven hessian structures represent the idea of and symbolises the care and warmth associated with creating a haven for oneself and loved ones.

“Additionally, these structures transport us to marvel at the intricate architectural wonders found in nature,” he quips.

Furthermore, the concept of a womb is delicately portrayed through a human figure covered in hessian cloth. This representation symbolises the primal source of life, security, and growth, another home. It also prompts contemplation about the origins of life, the sanctuary provided by maternal love, and the endless potential that new beginnings hold - a womb.

He says he was introduced to the hessian cloth when he was assisting another great mind in the art world, Nkhensani Rihlampfu.

“As I delved deeper into the material, I became enamoured with its biodegradability and versatility. My curiosity revolved around how far I could push the material and its symbolic significance in relation to my personal inquiry about migration and displacement as a Sowetan,” he adds.

Hessian, or burlap in the United States and Canada, or crocus in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean, is a woven fabric made of vegetable fibres, usually the skin of the jute plant or sisal leaves.

For the Soweto-born visual artist, the cloth is an intriguing material as it transplants plants, making this material a symbolic material for her work.

“Hessian cloth is traditionally used for transplanting plants, and I am intrigued by its potential to facilitate the movement of things from their original locations to new, unfamiliar places. My work embodies the exploration of these ideas through the use of this material.”