The life of an artwork is a curious thing. It begins with an experience or idea translated into a tangible expression by an artist. Traditionally, this has taken the form of painting, photography or sculpture, but in some instances, the process involves the artist rethinking the boundaries of these mediums as a way to explore their subject matter. The result can be a heightened encounter between the object produced, the hand that made it, and the viewer. Through this exchange, a story unfolds and, with it, new meanings are made.
Works featured on this exhibition grapple with the process of meaning-making in figurative and abstract ways and prompt the viewer to interpret the work from a number of viewpoints.
Misheck Masamvu’s hand-carved sculpture Misheck we miss you love mother and dead twin sister takes the form of a stretcher used to transport sick people or dead bodies. Embedded in the sculpture is a letter Masamvu wrote to himself in the voice of his mother and twin sister, who died during childbirth; a form of grievance that takes the symbol of the stretcher and transforms it into a bridge between life and death.
Initially, mounir fatmi’s Darkening Process evokes a questionable depiction of black face. In reality though, the work reflects on the life of John Howard Griffin, a white civil rights activist who chemically and temporarily darkened his skin in response to the experiences of black people during the American civil rights era. fatmi engages in an intertextual game with history, splicing footage from a sixties film inspired by Griffin’s life, with images linked to the black experience. In so doing he asks the viewer to re-examine their conceptions of blackness, whiteness and solidarity in a contemporary era which has given rise to personalities such Rachel Dolezal.
Broomberg and Chanarin’s The Day Nobody Died repurposes photographic film as a storytelling medium. The title of the work alludes to a situation in which the artists were embedded in Afghanistan, tasked with documenting the horrors of war. The image, an abstraction of shapes and colour, was created by unrolling and exposing a seven-metre section of film to the sun for 20 seconds.
Prominently featured, Ghada Amer and Reza Farkhondeh’s collaborative canvases welcome rich interpretation. One reading of the women depicted in various states of seductive repose prompt in the words of a recent review in HyperAllergic, “the crucial need to recognize our desires as our own and resist projecting them onto others and thus start a cycle of blame, recrimination, punishment, reprisal, self-hatred, and the inevitable curtailing of someone else’s life chances.”
A charcoal drawing by William Kentridge depicts the bleak surrounds of a war-torn landscape. The work, Untitled (Drawing from Wozzeck 35), was created by Kentridge for a production of the acclaimed Alban Berg opera, Wozzeck, which recently premiered at the Salzburg Festival. Kentridge drew on documentary photographs of a battlefield to conceive the work, but may also resonate in its visceral rendering with the brutal ISIS killings happening in Syria today.
In Masking Tradition DXIII, Kendell Geers uses the image of the African mask to reinforce tropes around its reappropriated use in museological contexts. Through this gesture, Geers brings attention to the uncomfortable position that traditional African masks have come to occupy in our cultural dichotomy. In his other work on show, Mined (2010), Geers casts a broken Heineken beer bottle in gold as a form of self-portraiture.