Helena Uambembe

Nel and officers

This series of prints is Helena’s first collaboration with the David Krut Workshop. Watch our Workshop’s Inside Story below and read more about it in our workshop blog.


Commander Nel’s Archive features a repetitive motif of an amorphic buffaloheaded figure. The buffalo’s head has a literal link to the 32 Battalioninsignia and was first used by Helena in her performance Tchigangi, .


In Times of Innocence

Kutala Chopeto collective consists of Helena Uambembe and Teresa Kutala Firmino. This is their performance at the Point Of Order in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, South Africa on World Refugee Day. The day honours the strength and perseverance of the millions of people displaced around the world. Exhibition in collaboration with Maren Mia du Plessis, Setumo-Thebe Mohlomi, Loyiso Mzamane and Christiano Selmo Uambembe in collaboration with Goethe-Institut Project Space in Johannesburg

Photograph: John Hoggt

As meninas

Like a handcarved mask or ornament, the buffalo head at first represented death, but its meaning has evolved as the dialogue in her work has unfolded and become more complex over timeThe character of Tchigangi is layered, as are the traits of the 32 Battalion. The figure is a kind of spiritual presence, a monster, a ghost.


In 2016 Helena visited the former Commanding Officer of the 32 Battalion, Gert Nel, and he showed her his personal archive of military images. Helena’s 2018-19 lithographic series Confidential Histories was her initial exploration of this interaction 

Helena specifically explores the archive of images given to her by Commander Nel, grappling with the content and, through the pronto plate lithographic print process, disrupting both his images and his perspectives. Similarly, the text elements found in the works have evolved from Helena’s notebooks, notes taken from research, interviews and thoughts. 


Helena’s collaboration with the  David Krut Workshop team and printer Roxy Kaczmarek is an extension of this exploration of her interaction of Colonel Gert Nel’s personal archive of military images. 

Helena Uambembe and Sarah Judge cropping As Meninas in the David Krut Workshop. Helena Uambembe spent  a number of weeks with our team of printmakers.

Helena specifically explores the archive of images given to her by Commander Nel, grappling with the content and, through the pronoto plate lithographic print process, disrupting both his images and his perspectives.

In this body of work Helena used the technique of pronto lithography combined with chine collé, collage and hand work to create a series of experimental unique prints. 

Polyester plate or “pronto plate” lithography is an immediate and often playful printing process that offers a non-toxic option for artists to incorporate visual elements as disparate as photography, digital designs and handdrawn illustrations.

Roxy Kaczmarek is the leading printmaker in our collaboration with Helena.

To make the matrix, the artists image is either printed digitally using a digital printer or can be drawn directly onto the polyester plate. Gum Arabic and water is then applied to the plate and an oilbased lithographic ink is used to capture the image. It is then possible to print the image multiple times onto high quality archival printing paper. In Helena’s case, a selection of delicate papers was used to offer the possibility of collage and translucent overlay.

Tchigangi serves as crucial reminder that, despite the public-facing, grandiose performance that often accompanies the military establishment, the reality of the personal and private impact of war tells a very different story involving death and the upturning of the lives of those who are not directly involved – perhaps most significantly, the lives of women and children.

For more information on the work of Helena Uambembe or the David Krut Workshop and Gallery, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. 

Gallery: | 011 880 5648


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