In the second edition of its South-South series, Goodman Gallery presents Let me begin again, an exhibition drawing parallels between artists from the Global South, whose work is situated within and beyond the afterlife of political revolution.
The show looks at cross-cultural influence and divergence – both historical and recent – between countries such as Cuba, Brazil, South Africa and Angola, as well as other regions such as Mozambique, São Tomé e Príncipe and Namibia; featured artists sometimes born in or living between these countries or in the diaspora.
Let me begin again considers a paradisal vision of race and class equality championed in the mid-20th century – after revolution in Cuba, freedom from military dictatorships in other parts of Latin American and independence in Africa, building up to the end of apartheid in the 1990s. The show reflects on how this vision of justice, and autonomy from Western domination, has unravelled, evolved, been realised or shattered. It also explores the notions of freedom and control; artists having the right to say what they want, revising and recalling historical moments, and challenging instability in a way that is highly divergent from, but still linked to, political ideology.
In July 1991, Nelson Mandela, president of the African National Congress (ANC) at the time, and Fidel Castro, then president of Cuba, stood and spoke together on the same platform in Havana. Mandela was on a tour of Central and South America, but the visit to Cuba in particular marked an emotional moment for both world leaders. This interaction reflected Cuba’s mission of internationalism in the South; its support of African independence and involvement in the Angolan Civil War, which Mandela attributed as directly leading to the unbanning of the ANC. Both Mandela and Castro spoke of the emancipation of the poor and the rightless, with Mandela putting emphasis on freedom and of the people being the ones to govern. Castro exclaimed persistently, “How far we slaves have come!” Both leaders evoked the power of what Ernesto Che Guevara often called the “human tide”.
Rereading these visions and proclamations now, 25 years later, with tenuous diplomatic breakthroughs between enemy states, dissident voices, state control, unfinished projects, presidents on trial, lingering mass inequality and institutional racism, as well as looming neo-colonialism, is both engaging and disheartening. Unlike Mandela, whose biggest critics are mainly South Africans, Castro is an overwhelmingly divisive figure in a global context. His recent death resulted in highly polarised opinion pieces about him as a leader and his revolution – yet interestingly resulted in reflections on his profound connection to Africa, contrasting with the often acerbic criticism from the West. Some obituaries and tributes intimated that in a time when the Western world is seeing the rise of the extreme right, the Global South is grappling with the ideals, conquests as well as sometimes conflicting narratives and setbacks of the revolutionary left – yet how deep-seated this ideology is.
This show comes 20 years after pivotal exhibitions such as Memorias Intimas Marcas – initiated by Fernando Alvim, in collaboration with Gavin Younge and Carlos Garaicoa, which looked at the residue of trauma caused by the Angolan war – and the 2nd and last Johannesburg Biennale, curated by Okwui Enwezor, which in a rare occasion for the international art world included many artists from the Global South. Now, this edition of South-South reflects on how the ideologies that were being embraced in the 1990s have unfolded or collapsed in quieter, contemplative moments, but are also being reignited or challenged in new moments of heated rupture. Let me begin again offers a deferential plea to rethink the forgotten, misrepresented or misunderstood; confront the seemingly irreversible; tackle unfinished projects and traverse unending beginnings. Featured artists embody a variety of divergent socio-political stances and, in other cases, markedly or seemingly apolitical ones. But in each instance is the sensation of – or a call for – reinvention, renewal or adaptation, from historiography to processes of working.
Let me begin again follows, and to a certain extent expands on The Poetry in Between: South-South, the first edition in the series in 2015, which focused on Brazil and South Africa in particular.
Curated by RENATO SILVA & LARA KOSEFF
With: LOS CARPINTEROS • FLÁVIO CERQUEIRA • ELIZABET CERVIÑO • ÂNGELA FERREIRA • CARLOS GARAICOA • KENDELL GEERS • HAROON GUNN- SALIE • KILUANJI KIA HENDA • GRADA KILOMBA • PAULO NAZARETH • SISIPHO NGODWANA • ANTÔNIO OBÁ • ROSANA PAULINO • WILFREDO PRIETO • TRACEY ROSE • GUSTAVO SPERIDIÃO • HELENA UAMBEMBE & TERESA FORMINO IN THE VIDEO ROOM MARIA THEREZA ALVES • COCO FUSCO • BINELDE HYRCAN • THIAGO MARTINS DE MELO • SUSANA PILAR DELAHANTE MATIENZO FEATURING PERFORMANCE BY IQHIYA