Goldblatt, Dada Khanyisa, Nandipha Mntambo, Meleko Mokgosi, Zanele Muholi and more, all of whom are represented in this exhibition. A show of this magnitude triggers a profound emotional response, by pure virtue of its astonishing scope.
When a show is large and powerful, it can be overwhelming. One is always fearful of having to confront the politics of hierarchies (or perceived hierarchies) of techniques, mediums and even hierarchies assigned to artists.
In this show, the visual relationships and contrasts between each artist’s works are stark and direct. In the show’s Cape Town iteration, Muholi’s intimate portraits pull you in, and as you turn the corner, Goldblatt’s sharp photographs documenting apartheid South Africa call for your attention. Both, and flirts with these politics and therefore opens up an intriguing conversation.
We See Mama, Mummy and Mamma (Predecessor #2), an acrylic, pencil and charcoal work by Njideka Akunyili Crosby, hangs in one corner. Across the room is Kemang Wa Lehulere’s installation from his 2017 show, History Will Break Your Heart. Although seemingly unattached, both works force us to confront ideas about collective stories, memories and “at homeness”’. They are made to converse with one another.
It is questionable, and hotly debated in many circles, whether white gallery walls can ever become truly inclusive and evolved. The question of whether they can become spaces that transform people’s attitudes hangs in the air. And yet within this question, and perhaps despite this question, when one sees the works of the likes of Muholi, one’s spirit lifts.
The Dark Lioness, as she is fondly known in multiple art spaces (a name inherited after her 2015 series of self- portraiture with the same name; Somnyama Ngonyama: Hail the Dark Lioness) provokes, disrupts and comforts from differing vantage points.
The installation view of the works spanning from 2003 to 2017 is enough to inspire — reminding you that the positioning of the work is not only about the potency of the images but also what they represent. With an entire room dedicated to these works, the Dark Lioness grabs you by the ankles and refuses to let go.
Muholi’s intimacy plays a game of contrasts, both from a technical aspect with the darkened images from Somnyama Ngonyama, and with the lyrical and commanding documentation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in her ongoing project, Faces and Phases.
One is confronted with choices: How far or close should one stand?
The success of this show is underpinned by its diversity, a presentation of a range of artists over a multitude of media and techniques. It is held together by the strength of concepts rooted in very dense and particular voices. Bold and strong voices like that of Lerato Shadi, who, in her video project Motlhaba wa re ke namile, performs the suicidal act of eating soil — a form of resistance by slaves and ancestors.
Mysterious voices such as that of Wangechi Mutu, who grapples with identity and representation in her morphed and visceral collages, add to the exhibition’s overall feel. Confrontational and provocative voices such as that of Cohen, who, with his heartbreaking meditation on loss and absence in put your heart under your feet … and walk! asks deeply uncomfortable questions.
Both, and reminds visitors about the interconnectedness of human struggles. It is a wealth of diverse narratives distilled into one show.
One feels a spark of recognition somewhere deep within — a sense of familiarity with the work.
The show captures one’s imagination and deepens the feeling of wonder and awe. Above all, it is a celebration of narrative hybridity, complexity and multiplicity.
Game of contrasts: Photographer Zanele Muholi’s intimate portraits have an irresistible pull