The award was given to Cape Town artist Kemang Wa Lehulere for his commission 'I cut my skin to liberate the splinter'
Performa, the New York performance art biennial, announced that artist Kemang Wa Lehulere has won the fourth edition of the Malcolm McLaren Award. Presented at the conclusion of Performa 17, the prize recognizes artists who stage “an innovative and thought-provoking performance” during the course of the exhibition. South African vocalist Vuyo Sotashe accepted the award on the artist’s behalf.
“Performa 17 has been an utterly exhilarating biennial. Every work has been a powerful call to activism through the most visually dazzling means, showing us how artists use their extraordinary talent as probes to consciousness. We are all better human beings for the work that we have experienced. ” comments RoseLee Goldberg, founder and chief curator of Performa.
Performa 17 brought three weeks of live performance to New York City, a culmination of two years of in-depth art historical research with six programs: South African and Estonian Pavilion Without Walls, AFROGLOSSIA, Circulations, AFTERHOURS, and Dada’s 100 year legacy. Through major commissions and projects, the Biennial’s participating artists confronted today’s most pressing social issues, the multiplicity of African identities, how performance and movement is shaped by the built environment and vice versa, and how the groundbreaking principles of Dada remain salient in the subversive consciousness of contemporary artists. Featuring artists from across the world, from Kenya to Canada, highlights from the seventh edition ranged from Julie Mehretu and Jason Moran’s reverberating collaboration, to Zanele Muholi’s citywide exhibition of her powerful portraits, continuing Performa’s mission to encourage artists across disciplines to pursue projects in the “live” sphere.
The award, established in 2011 to honor Malcolm McLaren, was given to Cape Town artist Kemang Wa Lehulere for his commission I cut my skin to liberate the splinter, where the artist created a new set of machines and sculptural instruments for his collaborators to play, working with theater director Chuma Sopotela to conduct actions and movements borrowed from children’s games. The artist also composed an accompanying sound work that was galvanized by ‘Cosmic Africa,’ the 2003 documentary about Thebe Medupe, an astrophysicist who traveled throughout the continent and shared knowledge about the universe, ancient artwork in Namibia and Egypt, and myths with villagers along the way. Wa Lehulere’s Commission bridges these planes of knowledge with constellations drawn from indigenous astrology, tribal wisdom, and religious rites.
Past recipients of the award include Ragnar Kjartansson, Ryan McNamara, and Edgar Arceneaux.