Tony Gum

Tony Gum


Rock Cause Analysis


This new body of work by Gum is certainly a natural progression and iterative expression relative to previous works.  A new series, entitled ‘Rock Cause Analysis’, stems from the concept, ‘Root cause analysis’, an analytics system that seeks to establish how and ‘why’ certain things happen repeatedly. In simple terms, ‘root cause’ traces a problem to its origin.  Where the ‘problem’ is not traced or located at the root or origin, it persists and resurfaces.  If women, half of an entire human species are consistently left out of historical as well as, contemporary narratives, evolutionary framework, recorded cultural, political and traditional practices, despite being the ‘bedrock’ of the very socio-cultural systems developed to their exclusion, they continue to resurface given they form a part of the whole. Gum aptly replaces the word ‘root’ with the ‘rock’ a signifier of that which is; solid, a foundation, that which forms mountains and cliffs. Furthermore, material used to create the four sculptures in the works is also of solid, rock-like texture. Essentially, Gums ‘Rock Cause Analysis’ is the artists’ contribution to unearthing why women, the ‘rocks’ of society are consistently left out, dislocated or dislodged from fundamental human experiences and narratives.

Gum presents her new body of work as a platform to address fundamental pre-colonial and gender injustices. She does this by remaining characteristically true to her self-portrait trademark style of execution where she is both canvas and muse. Extending her three-dimensional artistic scope and capabilities Gum shows us why she is a young international award-winning contemporary artist of distinction, grace, and poise. Taking up the challenge, putting her gifts and talent where her social activist, influencer, and advocacy passions lie, Gum makes certain African heritage, culture and belief systems remain front and centre of 21st Century discourse. Gum creates four unprecedented sculptures as the case study for analysis, four Xhosa tribes, and roles upheld by women of these tribes. Perhaps the stars aligned in 2018 when artists across genres intuitively felt compelled to address the great chasm in the industry and, in a world that continues to undermine the importance, impact, and power of ‘black female heroes’.Fortuitously, the release of the film ‘Black Panther’ could not have come at a better time. Gum’s new body of work offers her unique and authentic expression of now global ‘Wakanda’ movement. Immortalizing women who reign supreme among the people of her Xhosa heritage and tribes – amaMfengu, abaThembu, amaMpondomise and amaMpondo of the legendary iconic mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Gum creates four 150 x 100 cm photographic images of sculptures she hand-designed and created. A labour of love and homage in many respects, the artists casts moulds in white clay reminiscent of porcelain of her own face and body parts, consistently across each of the four tribeswomen. Gum gracefully and beautifully captures the essence of what makes each of the tribeswomen inherently unique and powerful in their own right, inherently deserving of an ode that is the ‘rock cause analysis’.

A budding sculptural artist, Tony Gum is in fine company as she brings a profound sense of consciousness and spirit of inquiry to a new body of work which sees Gum extending her captivating contemporary photographic, digital and paintwork repertoire to sculpture. Gum joins other award-winning Contemporary African female sculptors like Mary Sibande and Sethembile Msezane from South Africa; Peju Alatise of Nigeria and Etiye Dimma Poulsen of Ethiopia, all of whom are distinctly unique in their execution of sculpture as a creative modality. Sibande, Msezane and Gum are among young contemporary sculptors from South Africa broadening this ancient practice and ‘creative ritual’. Through the ritual of sculpture these artists are able to extend and hold human form constant in space and time, recreate particular experiences; examine contested narratives, offering alternative vantage points with which to view the world.

In Gum’s seminal sculptural presentations, ‘Rock Cause Analysis,’ posit isiXhosa women, who in South Africa are synonymous with the word ‘rock’ or ‘imbokodo’ as it is known in Xhosa. The four sculptures represented in their characteristic traditional dress with beadwork pieces adorning the rest of the body, particular pieces attributable to class, stature, domestic and cultural role or responsibility. Gum goes on to provide context for this new body of work, ‘with the intention of juxtaposing the two worlds, the look and feel of the work are inspired by neoclassical sculpture common in the West. This work, however, still captures the diverse African traditions – specifically, South African Xhosa tribes. ‘Similarly, in the way most Greek sculptures have missing limbs, the sculptures I have created are limbless too’. How then do women persist and resurface in a quest for recognition and equal representation in societies and systems that seek to render them invisible and ‘irrelevant’? Gum’s ‘Rock Cause Analysis’ seeks to unearth the inherent stoic nature of many women to whom she relates, the Xhosa tribeswomen, unsung heroins and matriarchs like the iconic Madikizela-Mandela.

The arms featured in the photographic iterations are dislodged from the main figure and are ‘falling off’. The symbolism of the ‘falling arm’ in all my sculptures speaks to the extent to which, the crucial function of the human arm has and can be misused. Whilst arms serve their function informed by choice, to grasping and holding onto objects, carry out tasks, duties, responsibilities and enabling our livelihood, arms also carry and hold, be this a machine gun and can write treaties and policies. In many societies and cultures, women generally use their ‘arms’ productively; creatively as nurturers to build society, communities, and industry and within the home. Still, women tend not to be as celebrated for their contributions.

Cape Town, where I currently live, for instance, has done very little to definitively capture the contributions of black South African women to our liberation via mediums like sculpture, often used to immortalize male contributions to this extremely hard-earned democracy.  In contrast, for instance, the Tshwane ‘Women’s Monument’ commemorates the story of women’s contribution to the liberation struggle, featuring four statues of the heroic stalwarts, Lillian Ngoyi, Sophia Williams-de Bruyn, Helen Joseph and Rahima Moosa. Cape Town’s Nobel Square project includes sculptural work by artists Noria Mabasa entitled ‘peace and democracy’. Mabasadepicts women and children in a huddle, positioned directly in front of South Africa’s four Nobel Peace laureates: the late Chief Albert Luthuli, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, former presidents Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk.

Making her own unique contributions, Gum initially presents a photographic representation of her sculptural work represented by four Xhosa tribeswomen. This new body of work goes beyond the obvious aspects of creating sculpture that seeks to only glorify the role played by women in space and time. The artist seeks to delve deeper into the significance, symbolism and sustained recognition of women reflected as their most ‘authentic’ selves devoid of the layers and burdens of politics, class and patriarchy. Gum elaborates, ‘the Xhosa tribeswomen I have chosen to capture, embody the distinctive women of my Xhosa heritage and indigenous culture. These women reflect some of the traditional roles and responsibilities that have sustained the different tribes of our powerful kingdom’. The sculptures can be seen each balancing and carrying objects synonymous with their specific tribal roles or archetype i.e. sticks on the head (Mfengu); baby at the bosom in a wrap (Thembu); intricate head wrap and smoking pipe (Mpondomise); intricately beaded head crown with distinctly pointed braid (Mpondo). – Lungi Morrison.



‘Kat’ in Xhosa Tony Gum’s mother tongue means cat in English. Black cats in most African cultures are synonymous with ‘bad luck’ or evil spirits. In this series, the artist in a deliberate, quasi-rebellious fashion places a double-headed black cat above her head, also reflected in duality. The black cat, Kat’emnyama, rests across both her heads and body upheld by a body adorned in black suite, and a head adorned in a white raincoat – Gum captures her state of dissonance, internal turmoil, darkness, however, emphasizing that both light and dark make for ‘a whole’ picture. We cannot embrace one side or aspect of ourselves without coming to terms with the other, no matter how scary, dark or broken. Boldly challenging cultural constructs for what eKat’emnayma represents among African people. Palms together, centered prayer position offer the definitive signifier, we are each predisposed to both enabling and experiences that manifest, when all seems overwhelmingly dark (double-headed black cat), when we want to believe the answers and solutions are outside of ourselves, they are always within, the moment we align to this eternal wisdom.

During the period of significant loss, Tony Gum adopted a black cat (she named Diesel) ‘Kat’emnayama became proxy for her anticipated role as nurturer. This relationship formed with Diesel Kat’emnyama, allowed her to self-reflect given very little was familiar anymore; in body, mind and spirit. Diesel held the mirror up to Tony’s spirit and soul – this red series, explores with intensity and dexterity, the inner-self, internal states brought to life in the external through Gum’s creative lens – photography, symmetry, monochromatic wash colour palette and her signature self-portraiture style.


Well aware of what is going on, but still is reckless. Became a person that was unrecognizable to self in relationships. Those closest to me bore the brunt of my emotional state of flux. Sometimes we have to experience a certain thing (even painful) in order to be closer to the ultimate self.

Reminiscent another young South African photographer, Phumzile Khanyile’s Plastic Crowns series, 2016 Phumzile Khanyile, born 1991 in Soweto, South Africa, through self-portraiture, explores what she identifies as, ‘the tragic boundaries of what my grandmother would consider a ‘good woman’, probing stereotypical ideas of gender, sexual preference and related stigmas and their relevance in contemporary society’. Challenging socio-cultural constructs, placing their narratives in focus, Gum and Khanyile make bold yet ethereal statements unequivocal about taking their ‘seat at the table’ of discourse on contestation, ‘self awareness’ and transformation. 


Ode To She

Tony Gum’s exhibitions are by nature a dual and deeply engaging experience. In the first instance, it is an intimate still life, human encounter with the artist. Her arresting spirit captured as photographic canvas means, the viewer’s gaze lingers as though in conversation with the artist herself.  A second aspect of the experience with Tony’s work is the story and narrative explored. Each aspect replies on and is, seamlessly woven into another. Her physical form and photography extended as methods of instruction, relaying the stories and personal perspectives of her world. Perhaps Tony Gum’s artistry offers a third dimension to ponder. The opportunity to witness life held constant, a reminder that in essence, each of us are works of art; we manifest in the physical, as canvas and vessel holding together our unique life’s story. Like the different stories in this exhibition series, our individual story comprises the spiritual expression of who we ‘really’ are; our ‘calling’, our ‘song’, our life’s ‘poem’ and ‘ode’.

Tony’s new work, ‘Ode to She’ is an invitation to experience the narrative of transition and transformation; the journey in Xhosa tradition known as, ‘intonjane’ when, a young girl ‘intombi’, bare chested, adorned in traditional beads and ‘imbaola’, a traditional natural body clay, becomes a woman ‘umfazi’ and later, ‘umama omkhulu’ or ‘ixhego’ – old lady. Different rooms in the gallery, symbolic of the distinct stages and processes of transitioning among Xhosa women, will also reflect the tapestry of rural life, thatched kraals, dry veld and cloud filled skies, symbolic of the complexity of early life years. In the foreground, each stage captures the extent to which women in particular, navigate multiple narratives. ‘intombi’ for instance straddles the dualities of rural and urban lifestyle. The use of an ‘Apple Iphone’ synonymous with 21st century lifestyle and the voyeuristic culture where the ‘selfie’ itself posits a ‘rite of passage’.


Black Coca Cola

Tony Gum’s fresh and energetic imagery has attracted national attention. With gusto she is producing a new prism with which to view African contemporary art and culture. Her latest project Black Coca – Cola features an array of projected identities that she has beautifully spliced together with the global iconic Coke brand. Coke has conventionally been famous for their pop culture branding and Gum has successfully melded the pop feel with dynamic Xhosa garb, ‘African exotic’, ‘Afropolitan’ urban chic and the archetypal ‘Bunny Girl’. Through the power of the visual, Gum aims to show a pathway to embracing Western brands, while remaining true and proud of one’s heritage. Her inspiration and message behind the Black Coca-Cola series, is creating an African representative for the popular beverage, giving the coke brand a uniquely African feel. Her imagery creates an intimate link between the brand and the ‘people’.  Gum is proud of her African heritage but she is equally happy to fuse with Western brands, she has the best of both worlds.


Twiggy was a 1960’s English super model at the height of pop culture. uTwiggy, Gum’s unique African conceptualization of the iconic woman, is a fusion of traditional African culture with the archetypal Twiggy imagery. Each photograph in the Twiggy series is refreshing, light and playful as Gum effortlessly splices together symbols of African culture with the quintessential Twiggy pop feel. Gum’s images celebrate her African heritage while embracing the iconic Western brands. Gum’s message behind the Twiggy series is to embody conventionally white Western pop icons with a fresh black feel. In doing so she has created an African model for these popular brands. Gum has succeeded in proclaiming her pride in her African heritage while simultaneously embracing Western culture; she has the best of both worlds.

Indian Lady

This piece addresses the Western pre-conceived notion of femininity, and how society views dress as a form of self-expression. Western views of femininity do not leave room for cultural practices, namely dress, to be seen as a freedom of expression for such women. Gum identifies with the other, addressing how traditional forms of dress that differ from Western views can be seen as restricting to freedom of expression. Gum’s proud pose challenges the pre-conceived ideas and re-contextualises the idea of femininity through confidence. This empowering representation is done so in a creative and beautiful way, accepting that femininity is expressed in a variety of forms. This message creates spheres for positive influence on self-acceptance and being proud of your tradition.



*** PULSE Miami Art Fair prize winner 2017 (Best artist). ***

***15 Women artists who are changing their world – and ours.***

***Tony Gum has been named by Inner Circle as one of South Africa’s top three young artists to invest in.***

*** Vogue voted Tony Gum “The Coolest Girl in Cape Town.” ***


Tony (Zipho) Gum was born in July 1995. She grew up in KwaLanga in the Western Cape and then moved to Pinelands in Cape Town. She started blogging and using social media sites like Instagram from the age of 15. Her subject matter is predominantly about art, photography, music and life in general. Tony’s biggest influences have been the African photographers, Malick Sidibe and Zanele Muholi, as well as Nigerian novelist, Chimamande Adiche Ngozi. Tony is continuously inspired by their unique approaches in their different fields of creative work. Tony is currently completing the third year of her diploma in Film and Media Studies at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.


Tony’s career as an artist launched when she was introduced to Christopher Moller, the director of the Christopher Moller Gallery, through Ashraf Jamal, Tony’s lecturer and prominent South African art critic. The Christopher Moller Gallery has been representing Tony Gum since August 2015.


Her photographsoffer the viewer a unique African perception of Western brands and culture. Her works celebrate the best parts of the African continent and of modernity. Tony, often mistaken for a man because of her masculine name, pleasantly surprises viewers as they realise that this young woman is fully involved in the conceptualisation and completion of all of her artworks, whilst featuring herself as various tenacious female personas in all of them. She offers a unique perspective on femininity – indicated through her confident expressions, rather than the use of clothing or make up. She provides a fresh and energetic zeal to the work, which she hopes will stimulate proactive thoughts and actions. Whilst she has carefully constructed each work to convey specific meanings, she wants her pieces to inspire all kinds of unique and interesting viewpoints.


Tony’s work is also strongly driven by the distinct lack of representation of African women in popular culture. This has been a genuine concern for her and admits that it has affected her self-esteem as a young woman. However, instead of complaining about it, she grabbed a camera and started shaping her own identity. In doing so, she has started creating an African model for popular brands, such as Coca-Cola, which were previously only represented by and for limited demographics. She understands the intimate link between a product’s image and the consumers who make these commodities part of their lives. She is creating a new prism with which to view contemporary African art and culture.