Sthenjwa Luthuli is a socially conscious artist who reflects on contemporary South African society.
Luthuli’s capacity to critically analyse the ever-shifting social landscape he grew up in has made him one of South Africa’’s most sought after young artists. His creative voice draws attention to the restrictions that are still placed on the lives of ethnic minorities in South Africa. Sthenjwa elucidates the reality that, for many, life is about restrictions, about control, about being told what to do and how to do it.
Pattern, texture, and design are very important to his practice, both aesthetically and metaphorically: the surface of the works seem to shimmer and shift under the eye, their ever-changing nature mirrors the capricious behaviour of the South African state. The figures are headless: a symbolic gesture to the important connection between education and liberation. They are shackled by circumstance, their free will eroded by the abused powers of state and a lacking social infrastructure.
Sthenjwa’s preferred medium is a 12mm MDF Super wood block that can be cut to different dimensions.
He then carves into this piece of wood using a chisel and mallet. The result is a hybrid art-object, a bare, wooden, sculptural canvas. Sthenjwa then paints this object, introducing his figures, each one deterministically shackled to a life with little opportunity. This process is deeply rooted in tradition: African sculpture has historically used wood, as well as other organic indigenous materials. This connection to the past is so crucial, as it is through education and learning from history, that societies and collective thought can progress. However, Sthenjwa takes this tradition and adapts it with a decidedly contemporary visual language, hoping to use his art to engage and offer hope to younger generations.
Sthenjwa’s artwork is a refashioning of the sculptural language developed by African modernists like Jackson Hlungwani, Noria Mabasa, Nelson Mukhuba, Dr Phutuma Seoka, Johannes Maswanganyi, Johannes Segogela and others. Sthenjwa Luthuli was born in Botha’s Hill, South Africa in 1991. In 2010 he joined the BAT Centre for Visual Art. The classes there familiarised him with the art industry and encouraged him to further explore and develop his creativity. He creates highly intricate, meditative work by carving detailed patterns into wood blocks.