“Begin on the other side of discourse.” This was Michele Foucault’s solution to the problem of beginning – because for Foucault – in the very act of creating, the artist is already situated in a discourse governed by established institutional traditions.
The malleability of contemporary black traditions is at the core of The Brother Moves On’s first solo exhibition, Hlabelela, opening at Goodman Gallery Johannesburg on the 24th of September. The exhibition is one which questions each member’s personal histories, cultural background and beliefs as a means of unsettling the idea of a homogenised black experience and its acceptance by white art institutions and discourse. The performances, installations and videos exhibited serve not only as explorations of the complex identity of black youthful opposition but also a way in which to question whether these contemporary traditions can exist with the established traditions of art institutions and discourse.
The intersecting histories, cultural cross overs and the constant search for identity which inform so much of the collective’s work are brought about through collaboration and the exhibition is dedicated to the late founder of The Brother Moves On, Nkululeko Mthembu’s spirit of collaboration.
The title of the exhibition, Hlabelela: It’s a new Mourning Nkush, speaks to the cathartic connection the group achieves in remembering and re-membering the idea of a constant and ever-changing collaborative effort that is The Brother Moves On. “Hlabelela” in this particular context means to sing, to express oneself in the unitary practice of a collective happening. One cannot simply sing alone because in singing alone, exists the beginning of a collective singing together. A single voice echoes the sentiments of the choral relation.
According to the artists, the exhibition “questions whether there really is a space for our traditions and experiences in the art world and ours being black people.” Having lost their founder Nkululeko “Nkush” Mthembu the Brother found that there was little to no space for understanding the spiritual aspect of his death and the mourning process that followed within the practice and the commercialised setting of producing art for an art buying audience.
“Art had no space for death and mourning in the collective’s reality, and this mirrored the country’s own lack of space for the rituals of the land during the transformation… whether in the form of slaughter for the ancestors or singing collectively to mourn those who passed during this process.” So Hlabelela is a calling – and what it calls for is ‘A New Mourning.’