African Artists Explore the State of Contemporary Africa

These artists explore systems of thought tied to the land and location.

by Antwaun Sargent
Dec 15 2016, 3:50pm

Kudzanai Chiurai, Genesis [Je n’isi isi] V, 2016, Pigment inks on premium satin photo paper 145 x 200 cm, Edition of 10. Courtesy of Goodman Gallery

A gunshot fires off every six hours as a way to call attention to the fact that a woman is murdered every six hours in South Africa in an installation Roulette by the artist Gabrielle Goliath. Underneath a pair of headphones at the Goodman Gallery Cape Town reads a mat, "Disclaimer: Listening in May Result in Severe Ringing of the Ears or Even Permanent Aural Damage." The rattling installation is one of many as part of Where We Are, featuring 13 African artists whose practices explore the continent’s contemporary cultural politics.

“We wanted to bring together a diverse group of artists living and working on the continent whose practice can be read as a response to being ‘right here, right now,’” explains gallery director Tony East to The Creators Project. “The artists in Where We Are point to the complexity of voices and richness of approach among African artists today, working as they do in video, photography, painting, mixed-media, sound installation, and sculpture,” says East. “But, in one way or another, they all attempt to chip away at how we construct reality as it relates to a sense of place.”

David Koloane, Shapes From Cityscapes 2, 2013 Mixed Media, 130 x 463 cm. Courtesy of Goodman Gallery

The exhibition’s cacophony of voices used personal experience to examine the living conditions of their homelands. Artist Tracey Rose’s Lucie’s Fur Version 1:1:1—La Messie, a photograph of an ex-lover, explores religion and liberation as it relates to women living in post-apartheid South Africa. Similarly, Kudzanai Chiurai’s portrait, Genesis V, explores painting as protest and black empowerment after the artist’s exile from Zimbabwe. The work can also be seen in relationship to Johannesburg, where he currently lives, a city in a constant state of flux. Similarly, The late artist Thabiso Sekgala’s fiber paper print, Tiger, shows a boy wearing a tiger hat staring into a camera. The portrait captures the hopefulness, anxieties, and bravery inherent in the lives of those in the new South Africa.

Gerhard Marx, Transparent Territory 1, 2016. Cut and reconstituted map fragments on board 85 x 85 cm. Courtesy of Goodman Gallery

Several artists mounted in the exhibition explore the colonial histories in relationship to land politics. Moshekwa Langa’s colorful mixed-media work, Untitled (Layered Landscape) abstractly explores migration as a loss of place. Kiluanji Kia Henda’s Concrete Affection- Zopo Lady video installation highlights the mass movement of Luanda people after Angola’s independence from Portugal. While Haroon Gunn-Salie’s red hand sculptures of colonial rulers Captain Carl von Brandis and explorer Bartolomeu Dias' comment on the ways colonialism still impacts Africa’s quality of life.

Haroon Gunn-Salie, Soft Vengeance (Carl von Brandis), 2015 Reinforced urethane. 115 x 82 x 89 cm, Edition of 6. Courtesy of Goodman Gallery

“They are all reckoning with systems of thought—scientific, political, religious, economic, sexual—that have asserted their authority through suppression and omission, setting in motion a legacy of trauma and disempowerment that will take generations to unravel,” explains the director. “Some artists, like Kudzanai Chiurai and Tracey Rose, are quite literally refiguring history by inserting Afro-centric heroes into the religious narratives they have inherited from the West. Gerhard Marx implicates our supposedly objective tradition of geographic scholarship by constructing maps with multiple, shifting viewpoints. Gabrielle Goliath’s sound installation enacts the fear and randomness of violence against women, which has surged to pandemic levels in South Africa.” He says, “In a sense, their practice as artists is to be catalysts to this unravelling [of place].”

Thabiso Sekgala, Tiger, 2012, Pigment inks on fiber paper 70 x 70 cm. Edition of 7. Courtesy of Goodman Gallery.

Where We Are was on view through December 7, 2016 at Goodman Gallery Cape Town. The exhibition will travel to New York in 2017. For more information, click here.


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