Tony Gum's First Solo Show Is an Exploration of Self and Pays Tribute to the Xhosa Women Who Raised Her

OkayAfrica catches up with South African artist Tony Gum ahead of her first solo exhibition that opens September 29 in Cape Town.

South Africa's Tony Gum has been teasing us with sneak peeks of her new art on her Instagram page as of late—portraits of her body painted earth-brown with the Eastern Cape in the background, iPhone in hand. Today, we finally get to see her take her new project as it's meant to be seen in a physical space.

Ode to She, Gum's first solo exhibition launching this week at Christopher Moller Gallery, is centered around her exploration, discovery and understanding of the essence of womanhood and the essence of being a Xhosa woman, which she learned from her elders.

“I believe in honoring our individual truths," she says in a press release. "Our ability to pause, reflect, connect and celebrate that which makes each of us whole means we are better placed to recognize and respect this essence in others.”

A fusion of new works and past themes revisited with never-before-seen visuals, Gum presents Ode to She as an intimate still life—a human encounter with the artist. Her work puts a mirror up you, the viewer, and with the incorporation of modern distractions such as smart phones, the reflection allows you to ask yourself, "Am I like that, too?"

Gum also mentions Solange's "A Seat at the Table" inspired her to reiterate the power and representation of Xhosa women, acknowledging their multifaceted roles and their complex experiences of self, family and society.

“So it was important for me that this story be a poem, a song, a letter to She—She, the Being, who understands He/She/Them to be a force, like nature; a person who has been beaten, tried and tested, yet is able to rise above it all,” she says.

OkayAfrica follows up with Gum via email to talk about Ode to She, her growth as an "artist in learning" and more. Read our conversation and take a look at a selection works that will be a part of the show below.


Antoinette Isama for OkayAfrica: What is one discovery you learned while you were in the midst of your elders that you can share with us?

Tony Gum: I learnt that women play such a big role in helping cultivate and preserve the culture. There was a time when the man of the household would have to leave the home (for long periods of time) and go to places like Johannesburg to seek work. The woman, would naturally then become the head of the household. Still taking on her own duty, she then inherits the rest of the duties under her household. I've discovered that women are force that can adapt yet can't be bound.

What been the challenges you've experienced while getting ready for your first solo show?

I'm scared of doing 'it' wrong. 'It' being the interpretation of the body of works, the story and my internal conflicts.

What is one main takeaway you'd like for people to leave your show with when they come see your work?

I want people to pause, reflect, connect and celebrate what makes them whole and honor their individual truth.

As an "artist in learning," how have you grown in your artistry since the world came to know you from your earlier works?

I'd like to believe I've taken a more personal and mature route with my work, but then again, that's also relative. The learning experience has become more immersive; it gets deeper and deeper as I explore my artistry. I can no longer sit in front of my computer and be content with the research that I receive from there, I need to physically try as much as possible to get to the root of the knowledge in order for me to feel content with moving forward. I guess I'm not only learning, I've become an adventurer.

Join Tony Gum at the opening of 'Ode to She' at Christopher Moller Gallery, Kloof Nek, Cape Town on Friday, September 29, 2017 at 6:00 p.m. The show will be on view until November 3.

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