Tony Gum's exhibit explores what it means to be a Xhosa woman

10 October 2017 - 10:19 By Staff reporter
Tony Gum's latest exhibition explores her Xhosa heritage.
Tony Gum's latest exhibition explores her Xhosa heritage.
Image: Tony Gum

Tony Gum's first solo exhibition, Ode to She, at the Christopher Moller Gallery in Cape Town, concerns the artist's "explorations, discoveries and understanding of teachings by elders on what it means to be a Xhosa woman".

Gum - real name Zipho Gum - first came into mainstream consciousness a few years ago with her blog and on Instagram.

Vogue called her "the coolest girl in Cape Town" and L'Officiel defined her as a "protagonist in the global art market".

Few would have thought, when she was seen as little more than a social media influencer, she would go on to carve a niche in the global art space.

She describes herself as an "artist in learning". Does she feel comfortable calling herself an artist? Or is it in an anticipation of a backlash from those who scoff at the idea of a former Instagram star claiming a space in the art world? It's neither.

"I believe that titles determine the person you become. I choose to go by 'artist in learning' because it serves as a reminder to stay grounded, enjoy what I do best and keep learning," she explains.

In Ode to She, Gum depicts a Xhosa woman in traditional garb, with a water bucket on her head about to take a selfie. This can be read as a nod to the conflict between modernity and tradition.

"I know for sure that there are elements in my work that contrast with the Xhosa tradition and cause one to slightly raise an eyebrow," Gum says.

"But this is where freedom of interpretation comes in. Marrying the interpretation and the tradition makes the art more relatable. We are, of course, mindful and tread softly. Our responsibility to the elders is to make sure we take what they've taught us."

• This article was originally published in The Times.