Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa 29 Oct 2016 - 03 Dec 2016
Haroon Gunn-Salie Soft Vengeance (Carl von Brandis), 2015 Reinforced urethane 115 x 82 x 89cm Edition of 6, courtesy of Goodman Gallery
Goodman Gallery Cape Town’s group show Where We Are is a partner exhibition to Africans in America, co-curated by American artist Hank Willis Thomas and Goodman Gallery director Liza Essers and held across both the gallery’s Johannesburg location and the Johannesburg Art Gallery. The exhibitions are presented in association with the major international conference Black Portraiture[s] III: Reinventions: Strains of Histories and Cultures as part of In Context 2016, an ongoing curatorial series that the gallery initiated in 2010.
Africans in America calls into question the meaning of the term “African American” and explores the shifts in perspective that are occurring among a new generation of artists from Africa and the Americas as they traverse between the two. Where We Are offers a counter conversation to this, presenting work by African artists within Africa – many of whom are still based in their country of origin – as opposed to working in the context of the diaspora.
The artists’ practice has either been rooted in or constantly drawn back to – whether circumstantially or deliberately – their places of origin. The exhibition will also consider ideological positions implicit in the notion of ‘where we are’; within states of transformation, in relation to complex and often traumatic histories and the resultant need for redefinitions of democracy and reparative justice. Place is an inherent locus of the exhibition observable in a multitude of expressions, including map-making, cityscapes, migration and monuments.
Kudzanai Chiurai , Nolan Oswald Dennis , Gabrielle Goliath , Haroon Gunn-Salie , Kiluanji Kia Henda , David Koloane , Moshekwa Langa , Gerhard Marx , Tracey Rose , Thabiso Sekgala , Jeremy Wafer
Angolan artist Kiluanji Kia Henda is a multidisciplinary practitioner who often manipulates public spaces and structures to interrogate the legacies that shape modern African cities, specifically the Angolan capital Luanda. Henda’s video installation Concrete Affection – Zopo Lady evokes a moment in the city’s history when Angola’s independence from Portugal’s colonial rule in 1975 resulted in a mass exodus of its inhabitants. The artist uses wooden crates and boxes to evoke the façade of an abandoned cityscape while speaking to the material weight of what it means to migrate. The construction creates a dedicated space for a video work that offers a narrative perspective of that migration.
The cityscape as a metaphor crystallises figuratively in David Koloane’s expansive drawing of the artist’s favoured motif, the Johannesburg skyline. Koloane is an established and assertive voice of South African black modernity crucially focused on the society and culture around him.
Gabrielle Goliath offers a chilling audio installation, Roulette, which involves the participating viewer in a dare. Below a pair of suspended headphones lies a welcome mat warning the participant of the possibility of aural damage if they listen to the audio – a stream of amplified static punctured by an ear-ringing, pointblank recording of a revolver gunshot once every six hours. This specific window of time refers to homicide statistics showing that every six hours a woman in South Africa is killed by an intimate or ex-intimate partner – the highest rate in the world.
Originating from Cape Town, Haroon Gunn-Salie addresses the current push for the decolonisation of South African universities and public spaces heralded by the #RhodesMustFall movement of 2015. Gunn-Salie implicates figureheads such as Carl von Brandis and Bartolomeu Dias in the traumatic history of colonialism by casting moulds directly from public statues of these once-celebrated men. Their hands removed from a previously glorifying context and covered in red, these figures are held accountable for bloodshed. The conspicuous place these monuments hold in our society is uncomfortably highlighted and destabilised, a form of vengeance through the symbolic reclamation of public space.
Zimbabwean artist Kudzanai Chiurai engages in a similar re-contextualisation of colonial imagery. His Genesis series takes as a departure point stone reliefs that commemorate the expeditions of David Livingstone. In a complex symbolic staging that references Livingstone’s championing of religion and commerce to ‘civilise’ Africa, Chiurai imagines an African future that the colonial project could never entertain: one which attempts to re-establish the connection between contemporary Africa and its rich past. Tracey Rose also subverts historical assumptions of whiteness by recasting the role of the messiah as a challenge to canonical religious iconography.
Nolan Oswald Dennis delves into knowledge foundations that ground South Africa as a nation and how the warped perspective of past power structures creates the need for social and political re-interpretations, including the conceptual repossession of South Africa to become Azania (a proposed alternative, in name and ideals, of South Africa from the Black Consciousness movement). As Dennis reconstructs lines that define country along historical and political lines, Jeremy Wafer explores the arbitrariness of the physical barriers and boundaries that define country, specifically the demarcation between Mozambique and South Africa. In an investigation of the standards by which these boundaries are created, Wafer creates his own tools of measurement that manifest in a sculptural installation.
Gerhard Marx deconstructs the borders defined in mapping to question notions of territory and the place of the human in the abstracted aerial view. The abstraction of the landscape is taken to its end point in Moshekwa Langa’s work, an expressive evocation of distance and horizon offering a personal perspective on migration, loss of place and the bittersweet experience of return.
Where We Are serves as a series of questions, interrogating history, geography and memory, both personal and collective. The artists examine the systems of place that define the daily lives and recent histories of people across the continent and find them wanting, resulting in many attempts at re-imagining. In the proposal of ideals and alternatives, the status quo is indicted and the past held accountable, as we attempt to understand where we are, how we got here and how to move forward.
This show is a precursor to a larger exhibition that will take place in New York in 2017.
The exhibition includes a video programme hosted in Goodman Gallery Cape Town’s new street-level video room on Sir Lowry Road, echoing the thematic content of Where We Are with a focus on the individual as an anchor to place.