08 June 2023

Nkhensani Rihlampfu, the 2019 Absa L’Atelier Ambassador, took us on a very intimate solo exhibition that has been three years in the making, titled, “The Journey: A Personal Reflection”. This exhibition is hosted at the Absa Gallery in partnership with the South African National Association for the Visual Arts (SANAVA). Nkhensani says his solo exhibition was inspired by his experience these past three years, after the COVID-19 pandemic. It was during this time that he was learning to adjust to a post-COVID-19 world. While the World Health Organization no longer regards COVID-19 as a public health emergency of international concern, like Nkhensani, many of us are still having to deal with the personal trauma and loss experienced since the onset of the pandemic.

Born in Limpopo, Nkhensani studied fine arts at the Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria, where he went on to obtain a B-Tech in Fine Arts, in 2011. Since then, Nkhensani has been involved in several art programmes and has produced many commissioned pieces, including a unique sculpture created from shredded South African notes for the South African Reserve Bank and a painting for Constitutional Hill, the seat of South Africa’s Constitutional Court. His art has been featured in several group and curated exhibitions in the Absa Gallery, the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK), Grahamstown Arts Festival, Pretoria Art Museum, RMB Turbine Art Fair and the FNB Joburg Art Fair, to name a few.

It was during the pandemic that Nkhensani, like many other people, was negatively impacted financially, personally and in his career. Three years later, he is still trying to adjust by reclaiming his career and life from what it was in the beginning of 2020. In coming to terms with this loss, he is also having to recover from the impact of the isolation, trauma, personal and financial loss that he experienced.

In this very personal body of work, Nkhensani shares with us his memories of experiences, places or people that inspired within him a sense of hope and peace, enabling him to move forward despite the challenging situation in which he found himself. Through this journey of discovery, Nkhensani hopes to inspire a feeling of comfort and perseverance in other people that were similarly negatively impacted by the pandemic.

“Tonight, I had the opportunity to witness a heart-warming exhibition that evoked a great sense of emotion in me. Nkhensani has demonstrated to us that not all hope is lost, but through perseverance and sacrifice you can motivate yourself to rise and still shine. Our organisation is honoured to be partners in developing the careers and storytelling journeys of artists such as Nkhensani,’’ says SANAVA President, Dr Samuel Isaacs.

“Life stories such as Nkhensani’s are stories that are not often told. Realising an artist’s dream, and making it come to fruition, is something that we, at Absa, pride ourselves on. Tonight is not only a journey of personal reflection, but an inspirational story of dedication where Nkhensani has taken control and risen above the challenges. As an organisation that is invested in future talent, Absa is delighted to continually partner with artists in opening doors and enabling them to find their voice,” says Dr Paul Bayliss, Senior Specialist: Art and Museum Curator at Absa Group.

Since winning the 2019 Absa L’Atelier Ambassador Award, Nkhensani’s journey has required him to find his paradise. “A paradise that I can call a place of peace that triggers both a positive perspective to life and a hope for the future. This trigger is an experience for me, a place, a home or a memory. Through this exhibition, I wish to encourage others that have experienced similar challenges as myself over the past three years to find their paradise,’’ says Nkhensani.