Goodman Gallery Cape Town’s group show Where We Are is a partner exhibition to Africans in America at Goodman Gallery Johannesburg and the Johannesburg Art Gallery. Where We Are offers a counter conversation to Africans in America, which explores the shifts in perspective that are occurring among a new generation of artists from Africa and the Americas as they transverse between the two. The Cape Town exhibition presents work by African artists within Africa – many of whom are still based in their country of origin – as opposed to working in the context of the diaspora.
The two Goodman Gallery exhibitions – together with Black Portraiture[s] III: Reinventions: Strains of Histories and Cultures, a major international conference that took place 17-19 November in Johannesburg – form part of In Context 2016, an ongoing curatorial series initiated by Goodman Gallery director Liza Essers in 2010.
The artists’ practice has either been rooted in or constantly drawn back to their places of origin – whether circumstantially or deliberately. Place is an inherent locus of the exhibition observable in a multitude of expressions, including map-making, borders, urban landscapes, migration and monuments.
Where We Are is a precursor to a larger exhibition that will take place in New York in 2017. It serves as a series of questions, interrogating history, geography and memory, both personal and collective. The artists examine the systems of place that define the daily lives and recent histories of people across the continent and find them wanting, resulting in many attempts at re-imagining. In the proposal of ideals and alternatives, the status quo is indicted and the past held accountable, as we attempt to understand where we are, how we got here and how to move forward.
Housed in an edifice of large wooden shipping crates, Angolan artist Kiluanji Kia Henda’s video installation Concrete Affection – Zopo Lady references the mass exodus of Luanda’s inhabitants after Angola’s independence from Portugal’s colonial rule in 1975. The cityscape becomes a vivid fabric of motion and colour in an expansive drawing by David Koloane, for whom the city of Johannesburg is a muse.
Gabrielle Goliath’s chilling audio installation, Roulette, points to a defining feature of South Africa – the ever- present threat of violence. A stream of amplified static is punctured by a point-blank recording of a gunshot once every six hours (the damaging effects of which the participant is warned about before listening) –
bringing to life femicide statistics showing that every six hours a woman in South Africa is killed by an intimate or ex-intimate partner, one of the highest rates in the world. Rather than confront the violence head-on, two photographs by the late Thabiso Sekgala look beneath the surface at the devastation in the mining towns of Rustenburg and nearby Marikana.
Drenched in red, Haroon Gunn-Salie’s sculptures of dismembered hands cast from public statues of Captain Carl von Brandis, Johannesburg’s first magistrate, and Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias are a powerful indictment of colonialist expansion. Zimbabwean artist Kudzanai Chiurai engages in a similar re-contextualisation of colonial imagery in his Genesis series, which takes as a departure point stone reliefs commemorating the expeditions of David Livingstone and counters them by imagining an Africa reconnected with its rich traditional past. Tracey Rose also subverts historical assumptions of whiteness by recasting the role of the messiah as a challenge to canonical religious iconography.
The ideas of land and memory are central to Nolan Oswald Dennis’ triptych, which contains extracts from Wikipedia entries for the term “Azania” and points to the limits of and Western bias still so prevalent in human encyclopedic knowledge.
Jeremy Wafer explores the arbitrariness of the physical barriers and boundaries that define country, specifically the demarcation between Mozambique and South Africa. Similarly, Gerhard Marx deconstructs the borders defined in mapping to question notions of territory and the place of the human in the abstracted aerial view.
The abstraction of the landscape is taken to its end point in Moshekwa Langa’s work, an expressive evocation of distance and horizon offering a personal perspective on migration, loss of place and the bittersweet experience of return.