Bambo Sibiya (b.1986, South Africa) attempts to preserve and depict cultural heritages found across the buoyant region of Africa. In this new globally inaugural series, entitled Flamboyant Souls, Sibiya depicts the innate beauty of fashionable local figures from his entourage, whilst drawing inspiration from traditional printmaking techniques, local wallpapers, and African textiles. Portrayed on intricate and lush backgrounds in acrylic and charcoal, his paintings, some monumental in size, explore individual or small groups of protagonists’ identities and different sub-cultures within South Africa. Through his unique visual language, Bambo speaks to cross-continental traditions in connection with their intrinsic diversities.
The large and looming central figures are inspired by the editorials of South African photographer and multimedia artist Trevor Stuurman (b. 1992). His work celebrates the transformative power of African creativity in music, fashion, art, and photography. Sibiya was influenced by the collaborative campaign by Stuurman and Vlisco, a Netherlands-based supplier of specially crafted fabrics and textiles. The company has created more than three-hundred and fifty thousand original textile designs, bestowed with special names and meanings by Central and West Africans – a diverse springboard for the intricate backgrounds of Sibiya’s paintings. From the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kuba cloth to Ase Oke in Nigeria, or Kente in Ghana, there exists a diverse range of patterning, compositions, and colours that have been utilised for textile generation. A Good Day for Pink Hair (2022) and Fashion is from Africa (2022) highlight the centrality of textile and fashion in this series. Across the continent both elements have been an integral part of African culture.
“Cloth is to Africans what monuments are to Westerners… Their capacity and application to commemorate events, issues, persons and objectives outside of themselves are so immense.”
El Anatsui, 2005
Forming a sort of documentation process, Bambo’s use of social realism attempts to preserve and depict cultural heritages found across the region. Works such as I See You (2022) and Sunny Days (2022) provide clear examples of the reinterpretation of local stylings, as the push for harmonizing modernity and tradition filters down, it is adopted by individuals in their personal stylings. Sibya’s oeuvre is not unfamiliar with fashion-forward interpretations of culture. His series on the “Swenkas” – a socio-cultural group within South Africa’s working-class society – highlighted similar subversions.
The culture of the Swenkas started with hostel dwellers, who used to dress up and parade in their spare time. Thereby, having found a unique way to channel their self-respect, creativity, and hope in the future. They inhabited a worker’s hell that Apartheid created and modern South African society can’t seem to dismantle. Hard lives, miserable living conditions and long separations from families would beat down even the strongest men. The Swenkas believe in cleanliness, pride, chaste behaviour, and support for one another to give themselves hope in their grim world. Healthy, humorous competition for the best-attired man gave them joy, while snappy clothing and male model performances are exercises in dignity and self-determination.
Central themes of Sibya’s work relate to migrant communities, family life, the working class, social security, fashion, and individuality. The importance of the individual lies not with their personality but rather as the figure being a representative of a whole – whether it be a group, trend, class, or movement. Consider Goddess (2022) or African Lady (2022) and take a close look at the flamboyant detailing, from the ostrich feather earrings to beaded eyewear, and ask yourself: how these elements could contribute to a bigger picture of person and society.