Celebrating 100 Years of the Coca-Cola Glass Bottle Exhibition – Tony (Nozipho) Gum


Pin-up - Black Coca Cola Series, Edition: 2/10, Fuji crystal archival print. Dibond mounted, 70 x 81cm.
Pin-up – Black Coca Cola Series, Edition: 2/10, Fuji crystal archival print. Dibond mounted, 70 x 81cm. Image Copyright Tony (Nozipho)Gum

Tony Gum, a young black woman artist from Langa in the Western Cape. Her decision to fuse a specific brand – Coca Cola – with an array of projected identities, ranging from the matriarch in traditional Xhosa costume to the West End Playboy Bunny, marks a newly minted ironic and playful take on the ubiquitous and morbid preoccupation with Identity Politics. In Tony Gum’s case it is the fusion of the African exotic, the ethnic traditional, the Afropolitan urban chic, and the iconic Bunny Girl which allows for a new framework, or prism, through which to see contemporary African art.

All importantly, it is Tony Gum’s wit, her lightness and playful irony which sets the work apart for therein we find no grim exploitation of a historical pain, no entitled supremacist black youth culture, no iconic imprisoning of black beauty, and no gratuitous play with emptiness. Rather, Tony Gum seems to have freed herself from a history of oppression – be it racial, cultural, or sexual – and, seemingly single-handedly, recreated herself as a mercurial aesthetic intelligence. Her work, remarkably sophisticated for someone so young, harks back to the genius of Moshekwa Langa, for Tony Gum, even as she plays fast-and-loose with the most ubiquitous and toxic imperial brand, is nevertheless giving us something fresh. Acknowledged by Art South Africa as a ‘Bright Young Thing’, Tony Gum seems set to make a major contribution to the booming Contemporary African Market. She is the new ‘plastiglomerate’ – the artist best able to splice the mortal with the synthetic, high art and trash, the better to capture the radio-active buzz of this art moment.

Artists Statement

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

text by Christopher Moller Gallery

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