Arena for Contemporary African, African-American and Caribbean Art

Khaya Sineyile


At the crux of Khaya Sineyile’s work is an artist who is cultivating an alternative consciousness regarding how artists from his background are perceived, he is an artist seeking to alter the manner in which their works are received. His work is barren of that apologetic sentiment, where the social context of the township is perpetuated to be the quintessential context for cultural, historic and contemporary passivity in relation to the powers that be.

Themba Tsoti on Khaya Sineyile
Crippled Economy, 2017.







Recently 99 Loop Gallery was hosting artist Khaya Sineyile’s current collection of works titled See no evil, hear no evil, do no evil. Due to his background and the subject matter of his discourse, it becomes hard to resist interacting and engaging with it.
Every time Sineyile produces a collection of works his sense of aesthetic assumes a boldness and a palpability that was not present in the previous or preceding exhibition. In this collection the works assume and clean and sheen quality that belies perceptions of aesthetics that are traditionally equated with his social background. In this collection, Sineyile has a more pronounced discourse, an indication that the discourse develops concurrently with each collection of works he produces.


Turn Off The Bullshit, 2017.

Sineyile has not completely dispenses with the anthropomorphic strategy between people and objects, in this collection of works it is extended to include these physical connections between the objects themselves. With the piece titled Turn off the bullshit this strategy is realized. In See no evil Sineyile has incorporated elements that external to the psyche of the community and the individuals that reside in the township he resides and emanates from. This way since in the previous exhibition he highlights how they affect the psyche, he is able to discourse the destructive element in them, or the psyche that is imposed and defines objects. This way also it not only becomes about imprinting one’s personality or social station on to an object, it is also about the effect and impact of the environment. ‘Turn off the bullshit’ is a piece comprised of a toilet basin and television as its water tank. The artist is discoursing a sense of intimacy that straddles between privacy and lack of privacy, between purity of thought and purity and the accumulation of visual stimuli that informs the sense of privacy that characterizes the community he emanates from.


Xenophobia, 2017.

With See no evil the artist seems to be also discoursing the sense of responsibility that lies on the individual and the community regarding the state of the community. With the piece Xenophobia, a portrait mixed with the teeth of a comb. The face is placed in the location of the handle, the artist is discoursing the meeting two disparate elements, the dynamism of the human and the utilitarianism of a comb’s teeth. The image of steering and coxing imbues the discourse in “See no evil” with the image of passive participation that the township is traditionally described and characterized with. The image of the comb also imbues the discourse with a measure of universality and similarity that belies current perceptions of the township.


Usana olungalilyo lufela embelekweni, 2017.

With the piece with the Xhosa title Usana olungaliliyo lufela embelekweni translated as a child that does not cry dies at a coming of age ceremony, also discourses this sense of communal responsibility. With this piece community elders are depicted in an egg carton, each in the individual slots. This image articulates the sense of passivity and powerlessness in an individualistic context. This said ceremony is supposed to be a galvanizing and inspiring occasion, but the manner in which these characters are depicted is forlorn and lethargic. Communicating again the sense of intimacy that is obtrusive and obstructed, with the characters depicted in a carton, the artist is making the statement about stifled individualities and communities. The elders also articulate a sense of history that is only peripheral by the sense of diffused narratives that Khaya Sineyile’s exhibitions are characterized by.
In See no evil this sense of diffused narratives is evident in a collective measure. With his previous exhibitions these narratives are individualistic, this way they make palpable the measure of intimacy and the boundaries that define them by fusing the characters with the objects that make up the environment. In this collection of works the sense of intimate energy can be discerned, since it is diffused the artist is able to demonstrate how it is imbued with boundaries.


A half a loaf is better than none, 2017.

With the piece titled A half a loaf is better than none this intimacy can be detected for its individualistic connotations, with its depiction of elderly people slotted into a four slice toaster, the discourse of history becomes a facility with which the artist engages the contemporary. It is also a strategy that continues the motif of diffused individual narratives. With the incorporation of overtly elder individuals the artist is making the statement about contemporary history being embodied, institutional in the urban context and characterized by a passivity that is communal and itself historic.

This collection of works seems to be imbued with a nostalgia that as a contemporary artist informs the discourse of his works. In that sense that by diffusing the narratives of his characters, Sineyile is articulating a measure of connection between his characters that seeks to also communicate that what is unifying and affective is historic when it is shared. He is not communicating how this nostalgia and its implications for the individuality are inherited, rather this inheritance is diffused in the objects that people are connected with.

With See no evil it become necessary for the development of his discourse that the borders that define how people navigate themselves through the history of their background to be articulated in a measure that is diffused. The measure of intimacy does not diminish, rather with the incorporation of historic discourse or elements in the exhibition, it becomes pronounced in the minute spaces the characters are depicted in.

I feel like I am monitoring Sineyile’s oeuvre, despite being attracted by the impact of his aesthetic, this work discourses what is historic in measure that implicates the personal and social. The implicit formative and didactic connotations are characterized as such due to the contemporaneity being a motif in how the collection is unified. That is implicated in the energy that informs the collection of works.
For me Sineyile’s works assume historic implications in the sense that he is an artist who is conscious and cognizant of post apartheid context being individualistic as the apartheid context. The exhibitions that I have interacted with all have the similar characteristic of being about individuality within the collective township experience. With Sineyile emancipation from the intimate and personal relationships individuals establish with the environment can be detected from the people that are around one. What can also be detected from the characters he creates is a sense of nostalgia, arguing and imbuing what is affective with political connotations. This through the sociology of neglect that characterizes the divisive manner in which the township is treaded by the centre or governing structures.


Sugar-coated, 2017.

Imbedded in the manner in which the artist works is that he works mostly from his house, and exhibits in the city centre. The politics of township art and township artists is incorporated in Sineyile’s discourse through his individuals and the existential or personal narratives. This is reflected in the piece titled Sugar-Coated, which is a piece articulated as a side portrait of young Black woman. Her quasi militancy speaks to the need for self-expression and articulation, to the hyper-individuality that characterizes contemporary society as something that both imbues dignity but also pronounces the existential implications that are inherent in the logic isolation and individuated self-expression. Sineyile’s works resounds with the melancholy of being caught between desiring connections in the community and the power of individuality to isolate. The character’s sense of dress or fashion sense is modern and contemporary.


Tycoon, 2017.

The artist’s works are imbued with the penchant to articulate his local aesthetic without being confined by attitudes about artists that emanate from the same background as himself. With the piece titled Tycoon a man wearing trendy sunglasses, the artist articulates an individual who seeks to redemption through self-expression, his dilapidated jacket and hat salvage the indignity of being isolated within the collective. Sineyile redeems not only the individuals he depicts, he also redeems the social context they reside or emanate from. This way the objectivity of his own expression can be detected to be informed not just his entopic aesthetic but also the implicit formative connotations that individuality is informed by in the contemporary urban context.

Sineyile’s work with its urban appeal, and its departure from traditional township aesthetic strategies like lino-cut, the artist has created a niche for himself with a visual vocabulary that straddles between the influence of street art and pragmatic realism that oil paintings can inspire. Sineyile is a visual artist whose sense of abstraction is made palpable by the sociological aspect and influence in his narrative. That he discourses sociological issues is a departure from the political and historic that purports that artists from the township can only be relevant through depicting ‘township scenes’ like shacks, street vendors and unkempt children.

Rather Sineyile imbues his narratives with abstraction through the sociological, this way what is universal about the social consciousness that informs his work that be detected to be imbued with a measure of familiarity through the use of everyday household objects. For example in a previous collection, instead of painting people from the community sitting next to a shack, one character’s abdomen becomes the shack. This way the existential and psychological implications of his work can be detected to emanate from the local knowledge while being imbued with a universal appeal. The image of one’s household comprising his or her abdomen not only pronounces the sense of isolated parochialism that Sineyile implicates in his sociological discourse, it also implicates the consciousness of neglect that township communities experience from governing structures.

In the exhibition See no evil the discourse is extended to comprise more than just the impact of structural and social influences in the context of township, in this exhibition is also comprises subtle psycho-social nuances that implicate the impact of outside influences from the city and the country. This is reflected in the piece titled in the Xhosa Ukuza kuka Nxele translated to English to the arrival of Nxele. Nxele was an important figure in Xhosa history, Sineyile’s cultural background. In the piece another set of heads are depicted in an egg carton. The image not only invokes ancestry, but with the characters in it ranging from generation to generation it invokes the inter-generational connections in the contemporary with their callous and individual attitudes. The image of the carton perpetuates the motif in this exhibition of the social context being a formative facility, whereas in previous exhibition the social context was a facility for parochial social orientation that perpetuate historically impose perspectives from outside the community. This way the artist is discourse the manner in which social issues in the context of township are apparently local, with the ‘arrival’ of an ancestry figure, he is making the statement that as a community we are conscious of this.

KhayaTurningablindeye2017KhayaTheDecesion Maker2017

Turning a Blind Eye, 2017                                  The Decision Maker, 2017

At the crux of Khaya Sineyile’s work is an artist who is cultivating an alternative consciousness regarding how artists from his background are perceived, he is an artist seeking to alter the manner in which their works are received. His work is barren of that apologetic sentiment, where the social context of the township is perpetuated to be the quintessential context for cultural, historic and contemporary passivity in relation to the powers that be. Being a sociological orientated artist, his oeuvre can be confused as personal and political, rather Sineyile’s collection of works is an objective observation of the substance of formative and didactic notions in a contemporary context subjected to economic and social inequality. That he invokes psycho-social issues, demonstrates the urgency inherent social consciousness that places the community in relation to the abstract structure and operation of socio-cultural didactic strategies and facilities. This perception the artist is demonstrating for us is propounded by the hyper-individualities that his characters either subject themselves to or are imposed by an external source. Having an experience of the background that Sineyile’s work deals with, I can discern the trajectory of the narrative he depicts, that it is visual means that it speaks to how he articulates history, that history is imprinted on the individual.

“Themba Tsotsi is a freelance writer writing mainly about visual art, based in Cape Town.  He graduated from University of the Western Cape B.A Honours in English and Cultural Studies in 2006.  He was founding member of Gugulective and has recently published his first book titled “Art Movements and The Discourse of Acknowledgements and Distinctions” (Vernon Press).