Tuli Mekondjo: Oudjuu wo makipa etu/ The burdens of our Bones
Hales, New York, United States 10 Sep 2022 - 08 Oct 2022
Tuli Mekondjo, Oumbada owe ya mu she, omakipa etu a kukuta _ Fear enveloped us all, our bones stiffened, 2022, Image transfer and mixed media on canvas, 128.9 x 344.2 cm, T_MEK0034, Photo by JSP Art Photography
Hales announces Oudjuu wo makipa etu/ The burdens of our Bones, Tuli Mekondjo’s debut exhibition with the gallery. The exhibition features a series of new large-scale works which draw on archives to weave personal and collective trauma with beauty, strength and optimism.
Mekondjo (b.1982 Angola) is a Namibian artist, whose richly multifaceted practice considers the sociohistorical context of Namibia as a site to explore ideas around ancestry and identity. Known for her mixed media and embroidered paintings, Mekondjo’s practice is a pursuit to connect with and honor her heritage. Her practice in both mixed media and performance navigates feelings of displacement, having spent her childhood in refugee camps of Angola and Zambia during the Namibian War of Independence.
This new body of work was made in Windhoek, Namibia and was greatly inspired by a research trip to Lüderitz in the south of the country. It highlights the histories of both the people – particularly women – and the land that was witness to the trauma of the Herero Nama genocide, 1904-1908. Mekondjo unearths unexpected archives, collecting historical photographs — sourced from books, public and personal archives, and postcards — which are then used as a starting point for the figures and landscapes
in reimagined scenes.
In beautifully handled works, embroidered, painted and drawn elements incorporate powerful symbolism, entwining the bodily with a spiritual realm. Delicately embroidered wombs and foetuses speak to the importance of mothers, birthing generations to come. The artist researched colonial maps of farmland from the Namibian Scientific Society, providing a backdrop for images of defiant women. Embroidered sprawling lines entwine the women with the maps and the land. Roots connect people to the skies and the ground — referencing life and death, a returning to the earth — suggesting the many ways that the past finds its way
into the future.
Actively collaborating with the earth, Mekondjo has many methods to prepare her surface — burying the canvas in soil, as well as preparing the surface with resin and mahangu, a millet grain and a staple food in northern Namibia. Her use of mahangu draws inspiration from, and places importance on, the women who work the land and their other ceaseless domestic labor. Canvases are then layered with additions of wild silk, and cotton fabrics are imprinted with rusted metal and salt to create vivid patterning. Areas are burned, the holes in the surface representing the absence and erasure of stories.
In Lüderitz, Mekondjo was confronted by the atrocities of forced labor and internment at Shark Island, a concentration camp, as well as graves of those who lost their lives working on the nascent colonial railway lines. Mekondjo’s sensitive works are an act of remembering – her drawn and embroidered additions evoke spirits and customary burial traditions. Preserving sacred rituals, white rocks mark burial sites and animal skulls, the death of a chief. These works honor those who fought for independence and question whether empathy can be shown to those indigenous peoples who were complicit.
In a defiant practice, Mekondjo wants us to look at these people who have been hidden in archives: ‘We never had access to actually look at our ancestors, to actually look at these images and say: Wow, so much beauty, so much strength, so much perseverance and survival instinct. The gaze is also being shifted because they want us to look at them.’ (Mekondjo, 2022)