The Showroom presents a major new commission by London-based artist Uriel Orlow, which explores the botanical world as a stage for politics at large through film, photography, installation and sound.
Working from the dual vantage points of South Africa and Europe, the project considers plants as both witnesses and actors in history, and as dynamic agents – linking nature and humans, rural and cosmopolitan medicine, tradition and modernity – across different geographies, histories and systems of knowledge, with a variety of curative, spiritual and economic powers.
Central to this will be Orlow’s two-screen film that restages a South African trial from 1940: The Crown Against Mafavuke Ngcobo. Ngcobo was a traditional herbalist who was accused by the local white medical establishment of ‘untraditional behaviour’. The film explores the ideological and commercial confrontation between two very different medicinal traditions, touching on medical uses of plants, indigenous knowledge and alternative medicine in post-colonial, migratory and urban contexts.
Based on the idea of a herbarium, the works in the exhibition will be displayed in a modular structure, each acting as a ‘specimen’ pointing to a variety of themes, including the botanical legacies of colonialism, flower diplomacy, plant migration and invasive alien species as well as the role of classification and naming of plants. This open archive will also include works by other artists who are exploring similar terrains – Kapwani Kiwanga and Cooking Sections (Daniel Fernández Pascual & Alon Schwabe)
Orlow has been working in The Showroom’s neighbourhood researching local medicinial plant use, which has informed the development of a multi-cultural medicinal plant garden at 60 Penfold Community Hub (a neighbouring care home) and accompanying manual. The garden is being constructed in collaboration with gardener Carole Wright, Church Street Bengali Women’s Group, Penfold Hub Gardening Group, and Penfold Hub residents and centre-users.