SOUTH AFRICAN ART IN NEW YORK
With Performa 2017 with its focus on South Africa in full swing in New York City this week there is much African art to see and not to miss. No need here to pay for a 14 hours plane fare to Joburg to discover the works of some of the most creative talents in Africa. All have an international presence and have been shown extensively in Biennales, museums and fairs.
Photographer and visual activist Zanele Ya Dress Casual Boutique Ya winter Boutique winter Muholiwho is best known internationally for her ongoing portrait series Faces and Phases which captures LGBTQI life in her native South Africa will be participating in a series of conversations with other artists and writers. She will be exhibiting publicly her photographs, perform with local and Africa based musicians and organizing with black LBGTQI communities throughout the burroughs.
Multidisciplinary artist Mohau Modisakeng (b.1986, Soweto, South Africa) is choreographing a street procession called ZION of 20 dancers in Harlem Saturday November 11 from 1 to 7pm. As Performa describes it, each dancer will be carrying “an array of personal possessions, various pieces of baggage, and furniture via an exodus choreography of walking, running, jumping, falling, leaning, and sitting – enacting the blistered legacy of segregation, violent displacement, colonialism and apartheid coursing through South African history.” Modisakeng was one of two artists shown at the South Africa Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale where he showed his video Passage. More recently, and further expanding on the same theme of displacement he put together a striking performance in Cape Town that I was lucky to see during my visit to Cape Town. While Modisakeng privileges a poetic aesthetic in all his works there is no equivocation as to the intensity and urgency of his message.
Nicholas Hlobo (b. 1975, Cape Town) whose studio I was privileged to see in Cape Town is presenting umBhovuzo: The Parable of the Sower at the Harlem Parish on November 18 and 19. He is challenging expectations of sexuality and identity within Xhosa culture. Here men clad in dresses and working with cotton and silk at sewing machines point to issues of domesticity, labor and globalization. It is useful to know that much of Hlobo’s work involves fabric and materials such as leather, silk, ribbon and sowing and all of it is done by him and male attendants.
Boutique winter Dress Boutique Casual winter Ya Ya Tracey Rose,(b.1974, Durban, South Africa) a seminal figure in post-apartheid contemporary art, has her video work in the AFROGLOSSIA Film Program at 32 2nd Avenue.
Four short films created by the NEST COLLECTIVE from Nairobi are also included in AFROGLOSSIA. I met up with Jim Chuchu and Dr. Njoki Ngumi of The Nest Collective when I was recently in Nairobi. Jim is a visual artist (photographer and video artist) and Njoki a medical doctor who in 2012 joined together with 10 other like-minded individuals to create new content and support creative endeavors. They explore through film, music, fashion, the visual arts and literature modern identities, re-imagine the past and re-mix their futures. Their first important ground breaking production was a critically- acclaimed queer anthology film Stories of Our Lives which was screened in over 80 countries. However it is banned in Kenya. They are presenting this time a new production: We Need Prayers : This One Went to Market which questions the ways the global art industry frames African art.
They also recently came out with a new fashion book ‘Not African Enough’ that challenges the narrow expectations of what African design looks like. I am impressed by the quality of the work and I like their forward focus. See you there on Sunday, November 12 th at 6:45 pm at 32 Second Avenue !
Unfortunately I was not able to see William Kentridge’s performance Ya Boutique winter Boutique Dress Ya winter Casual Ursonate . It got booked pretty quickly. The good news: he is coming back in 2018 at the Park Armory.
On the other hand I did get to see South African artist Kemang Wa Lehure’s production I cut my skin to liberate the splinter with theater director Chuma Sopotela at the Connelly theater last weekend.
Wa Lehulere’s installation not only claimed the stage but also spilled over into most of the theater. It became quickly clear that the order of things was being inverted. On the stage, ceramic dogs were positioned amidst musical stands and mysterious signaling hands and faced the parterre where Wa Lehulere had arranged his sculptural instruments and where the sound performance was going to take place. I recognized the wooden and metal sculptures that I had seen just a month before in his studio in Cape Town. There was the wooden pyramid with its glass tube that functioned as a traveling tunnel for messages in glass bottles; the bird houses which reference the first female black artist in South Africa, the wooden school desk that point to Wa Lehulere’s school years when he chose to not speak Afrikaan: This was then his first act of protest against apartheid.
And again the ceramic dogs which appear in most of his installations these days. During the visit at the studio he explained their link to mythology: if you took sleep from a dog’s eye you could see into the spiritual world. They are for him metaphors for the past, for memory. In addition those kinds of dogs are attack and guard dogs in South Africa. By including them he points again to what happened during apartheid. Black people were forbidden to own dogs and if they did, the dogs were killed.
To the sound of drums, of make-do strings and wind instruments, Wa Lehulere and his female protagonist seemed to be enacting a story as well as engaging in child play. He pushed a wheel with two crutches just like I had just seen a little boy play in Kenya out in the desert town of Merti.
I hope you take advantage of this wonderful opportunity at our doorstep if you live in New York City.