Khaya Witbooi: History Begins with a Garden

Gallery MOMO, Johannesburg, South Africa
16 Mar 2017 - 16 Apr 2017

Khaya Witbooi: History Begins with a Garden

Khaya Witbooi, Seeds of Strange Fruits (2017), Courtesy of the Gallery MOMO

Gallery MOMO Johannesburg presents Khaya Witbooi’s solo show ‘History Begins with a Garden’ . The exhibition, curated by Mariella Franzoni,  marks the end of his MOMO Artist Residency and is particularly focused on the role played by gardeners and gardens in the colonial history of the Cape.

Sometimes we ask flowers to speak for us, to tell our love, jealousy or gratitude; but flowers can reveal other truths if we let them. They can tell about the love and hate of our past and the controversies of our present, unlocking the political history of their beauty and poetics. The same inquiry would unveil the protected space of the garden itself as a place of symbolic and material production, where sublime beauty still emerges as a surplus value of the dirty hands of others labor.

History begins with a Garden is an exhibition by Khaya Witbooi curated by Mariella Franzoni, in which the artist explores the colonial genealogy of gardens and gardening in South Africa, bringing to light its relation with slavery, land dispossession and nationalist propaganda. Questions like, ‘how the beauty of South Africa’s nature is produced, protected and celebrated? For whom? At whose expense?’ motivate the ambivalent exploration of the notion of a garden as a space of beauty and violence at the same time.

In school books, the (colonial) history of South Africa is made to start with the creation of an innocent garden – a small portion of land in the Cape cultivated by the travelers of the Dutch East Indian Company to supply food for their journey towards and from India. But the story of gardens in the region does not end with vegetables and fruits. Beside the utilitarian motives, the rhetoric of aesthetic and civilization was at the origin of the colonial and apartheid enterprises that built the Company’s Garden and, later, Kirstenbosch in Cape Town as symbols of power. While reflecting on the etymological nexus between the words ‘culture,’ ‘cultivation’ and ‘colony’ in Latin, as well as on the parallels between the colonial history and the Genesis of the Bible, History begins with a Garden also aims to symbolically redeem the South African gardeners and domestic workers of yesterday and today from their segregation outside the realm of art and culture.

In this show, comprised of paintings on canvas and works on paper, as well as an installation, Khaya Witbooi contaminates his meticulous practice of hand-cut stencils and spray paint informing his most known technique with other media, while exploring new visual languages within the pop and hip-hop culture and aesthetics. Playing with social critique and parody, the artist continues his exploration of the dialectics between material and immaterial labor, fordist and post-fordist productive systems, innovations and maintenance tasks, pointing out how those intricate relations keep consolidating global asymmetries and the social hierarchies in contemporary South Africa.


Opening 16 March from 16:00 to 21:00




Khayalethu Witbooi was born and grew up in Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. Witbooi has worked as a draughtsman and illustrator for an architecture firm, while doing freelance work for The Argus newspaper in Cape Town (court sketches, cartoons, etc.). In June 2010 he was selected to join the Goodhope ART Studio programme. He recently developed his collage-style paintings, on show at Worldart.


All content © 2024 Contemporary And. All Rights Reserved. Website by SHIFT