Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town, South Africa 20 Nov 2022 - 03 Sep 2023
Zandile Tshabalala, Two Reclining Women, 2020. Acrylic on canvas, 122 x 91.5cm. Courtesy of Zeitz MOCAA
Zeitz MOCAA presents an exhibition that explores Black self-representation through portraiture and figuration in painting. Titled When We See Us, this timely exhibition celebrates global Black subjectivities and Black consciousness from pan-African and pan-diasporic perspectives. The exhibition will feature works by artists such as Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Zandile Tshabalala, Jacob Lawrence, Chéri Samba, Danielle McKinney, Archibald Motley, Ben Enwonwu, Kingsley Sambo, Sungi Mlengeya, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Cyprien Tokoudagba, Amy Sherald, Mmapula Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi and Joy Labinjo amongst many others.
With a focus on painting, specifically works produced from the 1920s to the present, When We See Us celebrates how artists from Africa and its diaspora have imagined, positioned, memorialised and asserted African and African-descent experiences. The title of the exhibition is inspired by Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us, a 2019 US drama mini-series. It depicts various forms of violence against Black bodies as still witnessed globally today. Flipping they to we allows for a dialectical shift that centres the conversation in a differential perspective of self-writing as theorised by Achille Mbembe.
When We See Us is the largest exhibition of this scope to be held on the African continent. It will feature more than 200 works of art from the past 100 years. The exhibition is about affirming agency and self-determination across the Black world. As such, central to the exhibition is the resilience, essence and political charge of Black joy and the Black quotidian.
The exhibition brings to the fore how multiple generations of Black artists have revelled and critically engaged in projecting various notions of Blackness and Africanicity that are self-reflective and that challenge the gaze imposed on Black cultures.
When We See Us highlights the artistic lineages, art schools and movements from the Nsukka School in Nigeria, Ecole de Dakar in Senegal, the Kumasi School in Ghana and the British Black Arts Movement to the Department of Fine Arts at Makerere University in Uganda and the Federated Union of Black Artists (FUBA) in South Africa, to name a few.