Known for navigating between public space and the studio, Sandile Radebe’s (b. 1978) striking relief sculptures are inspired by iziqhaza Zulu earplugs, and ucu, beaded necklaces with triangular patterns that carry encoded messages between lovers. This body of work reflects the artist’s long-standing interest in language, communication and Zulu knowledge systems and material culture, exploring and deploying scripts, codes, symbols and colour.
Ukuklekla is isiZulu for slicing the earlobes, in order to adorn them with iziqhaza. Ukuklekla also means to be wise. Only those deemed wise are bestowed with the honour to -klekla. The use of herbs by knowledgeable elders during this rite alludes to indigenous knowledge systems inherent not only in the process of ukuklekla but also in the construction of Zulu material culture: iziqhaza, izinkamba, amabheqe, amacansi and so forth.
Isiqhaza also carries another more political meaning: it was used historically to describe those who resisted the rise of ‘modernity’ and Christianity, and were seen to be ‘backward’ in their maintenance of cultural beliefs and practices. Interested in fluid and contextualised meaning, Radebe says, “My iziqhaza is rooted in a different context to that of ukuklekla: mine is a critique on how we understand who we are and what identifies us, particularly as amaZulu and as human beings.”
Based at the Bag Factory in Jo’burg, Radebe holds a BFA (Hons) and a PGDA in Arts & Cultural Management from Wits University.
He has exhibited in multiple group exhibitions in South Africa, including at Lizamore, Everard Read and Circa. He has also created numerous public artworks for Afrika Burn, Century City Bus Station Cape Town, Joburg Road Agency, Vrystaat Kunstefees, and the 1st International Sculpture Symposium’ in Odisha India, among others. Radebe’s gallery pieces are in private collections in Johannesburg, Cape Town, London and Madrid.