Khaya Witbooi, South African, b. 1977
Khaya Witbooi was born in the Eastern Cape of South Africa and currently lives and works in Johannesburg. He coined the word “pap-art” – being “pap” the traditional poor staple food in Southern Africa – to define his personal approach to contemporary art as a self-taught artist.
Witbooi’s collage-style paintings, created from a combination of stenciling and spray paint on canvas, are strongly influenced by graffiti and pop art, as well as hip-hop culture and aesthetics. Interested in social critique and parody, he focuses on post-colonial and post-apartheid political tensions as well as on the paradoxes of consumerism and globalization, always conveying humor and sarcasm. While appropriating media like installation and performance, Witbooi explores the dialectics between material and immaterial labor, cognitive and manual skills, fordist and post-fordist productive systems and knowledge and ignorance, reflecting on how those relations keep consolidating global asymmetries in the social and racial hierarchies of contemporary South Africa.
His breadth of work refers to the colonial history of gardens in South Africa and the botanic imperialism perpetuated by Britain during its expansion. The celebrated beauty of South African botanical diversity, in particular in the Western Cape region, conceals a colonial regime of alien plant introduction. This glorification of domesticated nature’s beauty veils the system of land dispossession and gardening labor exploitation that inform the history of South Africa. He creates images in which recognisable symbols represented in a collage- and sticker-like form, suggest the reality of the clumsy manufactured regime South African nationalist propaganda.
Witbooi is affiliated with the Centre for Humanities Research (CHR) of the University of Western Cape and, from 2009 to 2016, has been a resident artist of the historically renowned Greatmore Studio in Woodstock (Cape Town). His work is collected nationally and internationally and has been included in the collection of the South African National Gallery, where two of his pieces were recently on display as part of the show Studio. Celebrating the Lives and Work of South African Artists. Ashraf Jamal dedicates a chapter of his upcoming book Symptoms Articulated as Objects. Essays on African Art to Witbooi, articulating a deep analysis of his work Madiva (2014).