Buhle Nakalshe is a South African artist and fashion designer who fuses traditional Xhosa patterns and symbols with modern settings. His goal is to manifest the evolution of the African identity, one deeply rooted in the past. African identity is entrenched in story and culture; Nkalashe reveals this through his palette of colours and designs. These paintings often feature scenes of everyday life, showing young Africans listening to music and dressed in contemporary Western clothing. He cites Laduma Ngxokolo as having had a hand in his inspiration, which can be seen in the aesthetics he uses to create an effect that is akin to fabric and gives the illusion of layered textures, which add to the depth of his pieces. The theme of revealing the lesser-known parts of a people's culture is aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Reduced Inequalities.

Voices of the Mountains by Buhle Nkalashe Image courtesy of Artsy.

The use of oil pastels in Nkalashe’s art is what makes it so special; his mixing of acrylic and oil paint in conjunction creates a tapestry of warmth and historical significance. The use of Xhosa patterns in his art is emblematic of respect and attachment to these major parts of the South African identity. In his works, the artist emphasizes the concept of being a "New African" and uses his own personal experiences of being brought up during the end of South African apartheid to design a visual parable to the strength of the past and its inheritance by these “New Africans.” Nkalashe himself was born in 1994, the year in which the apartheid ended; however, the effects of which are not lost by the artist or in his works. 

Colourful Garden Painting by Buhle Nkalashe Image courtesy of SaatchiArt.

Implementing technologies and Western symbols covered by Xhosa, Ndebele and Zulu designs is a reclamation against colonial powers and portrayals. Nkalashe takes these inherited designs and honours his past with colourful yet relaxed imagery that evokes melancholy and pride. These works effectively relay a message stating that despite adversity, these practices, arts and fabrics are an inseparable bond that remains at the forefront of the “new African,” with any notions of them having forgotten their pre-colonial identities being simply a fabrication.  

“I was born on the turning point of South Africa and Africa as a whole, becoming a New Democracy. My work conveys what it means to me to be a New African in my own eyes, with regards to opportunity and diversity, and celebrating inspirational South Africans.” Nkalashe described in an interview with ArtTimes.
Eastern by Buhle Nkalashe Image courtesy of Artsy.

The artist uses obvious modern motifs, such as iPhones and headphones, in works like Lead The Way. In this piece Nkalashe depicts a young man with his iphone trying to reach his destination, using this relatable modern practice as a base he then transforms the premise into a more nuanced look towards one's own identity. The phone’s location icon is used as a metaphor to illustrate the self-image of the “New African.” Using the western symbol of the phone and repurposing its original meaning is a common theme within Nkalashe’s pieces, his ingenuity in converting meaning and using commercial western items and granting them life with new meaning is a large part of his creative intent. 

Lead The Way  by Buhle Nkalashe Image courtesy of WORLDART.

Nkalashe’s love letter to his identity and forebears is a source of pride not just for the South African community, but also for all indigenous peoples. Those who have had their identities morphed by the tide of colonialism, which shifted their identities with changes in language and cultural reshuffles. His use of bright, joyful patterns during even simple and mundane occurrences during the lives of new Africans shows that these ancestral gifts follow the young and aspiring members of the new democracy throughout every fleeting moment.

The artist tells Africa and the world that despite these changes, the resilience of the past is a force that cannot be shaken. His works express a strength of culture and shed light on cultures redefining themselves while never wholly separating from their foundations.

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