If you haven’t heard of Nicholas Hlobo before, now you know and Louis Vuitton is making sure of that! Having had his work exhibited from Cape Town’s Zeitz Mocaa to London’s Tate Modern to even the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, the Joburg-based artist has taken contemporary African art to the world with his new collaboration with Louis Vuitton.
The artist was approached by luxury French fashion house, Louis Vuitton, to put an “artist twist” on their signature Capucines bag.
In an interview with Louis Vuitton, published on Sunday times lifestyle, Hlobo tells us more about his collaboration.
What are the principal recurring themes in your work?
The work is autobiographical: my rapport with SA, my ethnicity and my gender identity.
I was born in Cape Town to parents from the Homelands, the apartheid reserves. It was only classified as SA when we had the first elections in 1994. So, having been brought up in a foreign land in the countryside, and then later moving to Johannesburg, has brought richness into my tapestry as a human being in SA.
Today, my studio is in Johannesburg, which is my favourite place in the world. The city has no apparent natural beauty – no mountains or rivers – but there is beauty hidden beneath the surface.
When translating your work onto the Capucines bag, what elements were important to include?
I wanted to mirror the ways I use different materials in my work. I stitch on my paintings and drawings, and my sculptures are created by layering found materials such as leather, tyre tubes and copper pipes.
I started by looking at the Louis Vuitton motifs, in particular the flower. I felt that I could interpret it as something growing from the bag, literally emerging from it. Bags tend to have clean lines and I wanted to break from that, to introduce bulging elements that do not have a conforming sense, and that are growing from beneath the bag’s surface.
Can you describe the collaborative process?
For me, the collaborative process was about bringing together two different worlds. Louis Vuitton has its idea of perfection and beauty. I have my own standards of perfection but I approach beauty differently: I am more curious about the ugliness that lies beneath the surface yet informs the beauty.
Physical human beauty is not necessarily defined by surface skin; it’s determined by what’s happening underneath – how the bones push through the skin, muscles, and ligaments – which is not beautiful if we were to look at it. This collaboration was a wonderful opportunity to “cut” through the Louis Vuitton bag and make beautiful things grow out of it.
The Capucines bag will take your work into public spaces. How do you feel about it having a life of its own, beyond your control?
It’s both scary and exciting. It is going to be the first time that my work gets to walk the streets of places across the world.
Do you see this project as art or as fashion?
Is it an artwork or an everyday object with an artwork on it? Ultimately, art and fashion are not so different. Yet the designer’s work is made for the body, for everyday use, and is generally not created to last beyond our lifetime, whereas people continue to go see the Mona Lisa because it was made to survive generations.
What was your objective in this project? Was it to make a statement or a desirable object?
There are wonderful people out there, brighter than I am, but Louis Vuitton came to me. I took that as a sign that they respect what I do and so I felt that my primary objective was to honour the request from the house.
• Q&A with Nicholas Hlobo supplied by Louis Vuitton.
Nicholas Hlobo’s limited edition ARTYCAPUCINES echoes Louis Vuitton’s Monogram canvas through a flower growing organically from the Capucines PM’s interior. Meticulously attached with hand-laced embroidery, the blue tones and contrasting texture stand out against the bag’s smooth black exterior to create a beautiful, handmade hybrid object.