Sandile Zulu

As in the nature of every dialogue, the interchange of knowledge, experience and expression leads, at least from a critical point of view, to imaginaries of identity, privilege, power and economic status. These, in turn, bring about a confrontation with greater issues of creativity, art making and the social environment in a global context. But dialogue on a global stage is always a complex proposition. It is this tension and attention that inspired my dialogical premise.

Henrique Oliveira

I don't like much this way that in Europe and North America artists are labeled--a Brazilian artist and not just an artist. I know that I am Brazilian and the most clear proof of this is that I cannot speak as an English speaker but always from the outside. The only way I can prevent this is through my work. I think the visual arts can be understood regardless of language. I try to work in this universal language.


Artists in Dialogue 2: Sandile Zulu and Henrique Oliveira is the second in a series of exhibitions in which the National Museum of African Art has invited two artists to create new works of art in response to one another. For this installation, the visual dialogue reaches across the Atlantic Ocean to connect artists from two continents. Sandile Zulu of South Africa and Brazilian artist Henrique Oliveira have exchanged ideas and techniques to explore their mutual interest in visual themes and intellectual concerns relating to the manipulability of a painting's surface, the workings of the inner body and the inspirational power of elements like fire and water. Henrique Oliveira has shared his trademark woods with Sandile Zulu; Zulu, in turn, inspired Oliveira to work with fire for the first time.

Two Artists. Two Continents. One Creative Conversation
Courtesy PBS Newshour, Arts Beat

The conversation begins . . .

Sandile Zulu and Henrique Oliveira first met in January 2010 at the National Museum of African Art when they were introduced as participants in the exhibition Artists in Dialogue 2: Sandile Zulu and Henrique Oliveira.

Artists in Dialogue is a unique series of exhibitions in which the distinctive styles and techniques of two artists are united in a visual call and response. In this second installation the National Museum of African Art invited artists from separate continents, each of whom works with unconventional materials that imaginatively extend notions of the canvas and painting. The conversation into which these artists have entered is not determined by geography or nationality, but by the creativity with which each employs his distinctive materials and their overlapping interest in the contours and mysteries of the human body.

Based in South Africa, Sandile Zulu controls leaping, flickering flames to create modular, crisply designed, almost minimalist two- and three-dimensional works of art. He is fascinated by the patterns that connect all aspects of art and science, living organisms and inanimate structures. Henrique Oliveira, by contrast, transforms the seemingly tame material of wood into undulating, invasive and almost uncontained evocations of paint and the human body. Both his vibrant canvases and his massive installations explore the ironies of diverse barriers, whether they are paint, canvas or skin. Zulu and Oliveira have been invited to create new works within the space of the exhibition gallery that simultaneously illustrate their individual ideas and visions, and react and respond to one another.

On that first day in January, the artists met and exchanged catalogues of their work. Sandile later recalled how, as he sat by Henrique's side looking at artworks, he was thinking that Henrique's work "has the power of life within it. . . . His installations seem to invalidate order because they invade like a flood" (personal communication, May 17, 2010). It was to Oliveira's "revolutionary" vision and disciplined focus that Zulu felt an affinity. And on that day, these two remarkable artists embarked on a dialogue that has resulted in a series of ambitious and provocative new works.

Visions in dialogue . . .

Throughout the course of a year, Zulu and Oliveira met in Washington D.C., communicated from their homes via email and Skype, and welcomed curator Karen Milbourne into their studios: in the Fordsburg neighborhood of Johannesburg, South Africa, for Sandile Zulu and the Lapa area of São Paulo, Brazil, in the case of Henrique Oliveira. They identified a shared interest in breaking with mainstream treatments of painting, extending wall-based artwork into three dimensions, creating installations and exploring a mutual fascination with the workings and malfunctions of the human body. Although the initial plan had been to display a combination of new and older works of art, in the end all but one was created expressly for this exhibition. At one point, the artists even discussed creating a piece together. The eight works of art on view in the gallery reflect an ongoing dialogue--between artists, museum professionals and now the public.

By its title and concept, this exhibition focuses on communication and dialogue. It reveals the visual manner in which artists communicate and invites audiences to engage with artists, curator, museum and one another. Please join the conversation.

Artists in Dialogue 2: Sandile Zulu and Henrique Oliveira is made possible through the generosity of Stuart Bohart and family and BET Networks. Lumber used in the installations graciously supplied by Georgia-Pacific and Idaho Veneer.

Back to: NMAfA past exhibits