Goodman Gallery Johannesburg
4 June 2016
Nelisiwe Xaba’s The Urban Mermaid takes its inspiration from the mythical creature with a body half-woman and half-fish, known by various names – Mami Wata, Sirene, Mamlambo, Watermeisie, Madame Poisson. The myth of the mermaid appears in different guises in many different cultures and geographical regions, each with its own unique story and characteristics. Xaba recreates these stories in her performance through costume – made of a children’s swimming pool and blue plastic wrap – and sound, a mix of Diamanda Galas. The performance took place at the opening of the exhibition New Revolutions at Goodman Gallery Johannesburg.
Born and raised in Dube, Soweto, Nelisiwe Xaba began her vibrant career in dance almost 20 years ago. In the early 1990s she received a scholarship to study at the Johannesburg Dance Foundation, as well as the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance in London. Returning to South Africa in 1997, Xaba joined Pact Dance Company and later launched her solo career, and began working with a variety of esteemed choreographers, including Robyn Orlin.
Since then Xaba has been involved in various multi-media projects, collaborating with visual artists, fashion designers, theatre and television directors, poets and musicians. Xaba’s seminal works such as Plasticization and They Look At Me & That’s All They Think have toured to various parts of the world for the past several years. The latter piece, inspired by the Hottentot Venus (Sara Baartman) saw Xaba collaborate with fashion designer Carlo Gibson of Strangelove. In 2008, Xaba collaborated with Haitian dancer and choreographer Ketty Noel to create a duet titled Correspondances – a satirical look into the politics of women to women relationships, which toured to various countries in South America, Europe and Africa. Her piece Black!..White? premiered in Paris in 2009. In the same year Xaba produced The Venus, combining two of her solo pieces, the earlier work They Look At Me and Sakhozi says non to the Venus, originally commissioned by the Musee du Quai Branly. A performance by Xaba formed part of Imaginary Fact – Contemporary South African Art and the Archive at the South African pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2013.