A Powerful Piece of the Venice Biennale Comes to Brooklyn
Mohau Modisakeng’s “Passages” is on view in the South African Pavilion and at We Buy Gold in New York City.
Mohau Modisakeng, Passage, 2017, Three-Channel HD Video, 18:49 Minutes. All images courtesy of We Buy Gold and Darryl Richardson.
Earlier this year, when Jack Shainman Gallery director Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels launched We Buy Gold in Bed-Stuy, the news was greeted with great fanfare. Applauded was the pop-up art space's mission of bringing museum-quality artwork to the Bed-Stuy community. We Buy Gold's second show, aptly titled TWO., continues to make good on Bellorado-Samuels' promise by offering a suite of video works by two of South Africa's rising art stars: Dineo Seshee Bopape and Mohau Modisakeng.
Bopape's single-channel work, the beautiful ones are not yet born, shows alongside Modisakeng's Ga bose gangwe (2014) and Passage (2017). Modisakeng is one of two artists representing South Africa at this year's Venice Biennale, where Passage is concurrently on view.
"Mohau Modisakeng's Ga bose gangwe intends to address the euphoria felt and displayed by the South African public during the transition of the country from the apartheid regime into a democratic state," Bellorado-Samuels tells Creators. Ga bose gangwe refers to a Setswana idiom, "Phiri o rile ga bose gangwe," which loosely translated means, "One must always think and plan for the future."
In Ga bose gangwe, a group of black men are trapped in a loop of their bodies. They get up, lay down, but never fully stand upright. The gestures, according to Bellorado-Samuels, "addresses the hopes and wishes of a majority of South Africans who associated political liberation with a promise for a better life. The work meditates on the notion and experience of freedom, or the lack thereof, within the context of South Africa's historic struggle for social, political, and economic liberation during and after apartheid." Modisakeng juxtaposes the euphoria associated with the anticipation of freedom and the symbolic birth of a new country, and the dystopia that sets in once the realities of the legacy of apartheid become apparent.
Passage uses symbolism to more broadly explore post-apartheid life by probing the history of colonialism and forced migration in South Africa during the Middle Passage. In the three-channel video, you see three voyagers on a small white boat, reminiscent of the ways in which North African refugees often make their way to Europe in contemporary times. The three subjects carry a single object that signifies South African history and perform a series of gestures as the boats they are traveling in begin to fill with water. Ultimately, the passengers resign themselves to perishing with the boat and lay down as it sinks. The video draws on local spirituality, alluding to the idea that what is not gained through struggle in this life will come in the next.
"Dineo Seshee Bopape's the beautiful ones are not yet born takes its title from Ayi Kwei Armah's 1968 novel about a man who goes unnamed, living in a newly independent Ghana which is struggling with the legacy of colonialism and the failures of the new regime," explains Bellorado-Samuels. "In a parallel meditation on the sentiments of euphoria and dystopia, Bopape through the motion and expression of her hand, brings us through a full narrative." In the black and white video work, projected on two screens, Bopape uses one of her arms, wrapped in strands of pearls, as a way to make meaning. Her hand moves rhythmically, shaking and pointing, as a way to underscore the potential of new realities for a future generation.
Two decades after the rise of Nelson Mandela that ushered in the end of apartheid in South Africa, the country is still measuring the effects of racism and colonialism on its black people. Bopape and Modisakeng, who both grew up during the end of apartheid in Johannesburg, have made video works exploring the country's local history of white supremacy. Presented In the context of Bed-Stuy and We Buy Gold, the suite of videos represents a meditation on the consequences of racism on society, community, and the body.
"While these artists may have been thinking of conditions specific to the South African or West African context," says Bellorado-Samuels, "the sense of moving backwards, or the disappointment and disillusionment, goes far beyond those lands."
TWO. continues through June 6 at We Buy Gold. Click here for more information.