Following on from solo exhibitions at Yvon Lambert in Paris and Stephen Friedman in London earlier this year, the Goodman Gallery Cape Town is proud to present a solo exhibition by the legendary artist Kendell Geers.
Titled AniMystikAKtivist the exhibition recalls the activism of the young South African artist making his name in a full frontal attack against the conservatism of the Apartheid institutions, but now fully developed into a transnational spiritual dimension. Once dubbed the “Enfant Terrible” of South African art, Geers has since matured into an artist with a profound understanding of indigenous Shamanic practices that he uses as part of his creative process.
No less a socio-political activist, no less engaged with the context of his time, Geers has added the metaphysical dimension, insisting that without spirit art is simply a worthless decoration.
Weaving together the socio-political, activist, mystical and animistic traditions, Geers creates works of art that are talismanic and totemic in nature. The work of art radiates transformative energy through the use of sign, sigil and symbol. AniMystikAKtivist is a meditation on the role of language in sculpting our perceptions of the world we live in.
The contradiction between our thoughts and how they are eventually expressed as words provides the foundation for the exhibition. New works of art are mixed with older works, all of which are distilled from the process of the word being made flesh.
Every work on the exhibition is a text in one form or another, from the absence of letters in the Mutus Libver or Mute Book to works of art that exist entirely in written form. The centrepiece of the exhibition invites the visitor into a mystical experience in which the word itself is the work of art that transforms understanding through an initiatory process. Once exposed to the verbal virus of his art there is no going back.
Geers’ work is at once quintessentially African and yet embedded in the European tradition. Animist African practices are woven into European alchemical processes through the prism of contemporary art.
Ritualised Congo Nkisi nail fetish figures are painted over with the white primer of colonial practice. They bleed out the silent tears of words unwritten in black ink, the Mute Books of the continent’s colonial past.
The oral tradition of Africa mourns and weeps as
knowledge. The once proud African icons stand proud in resistance with their arms outraised, protesting in the name of art.
In poetic contrast, the burned wooden shards of recycled dead trees are inlaid with perspex mirrors that have been cut into letters and words that reflect back upon us our own act of looking.
They are not just any words, but the profane four letter word, the basic words of love, hate, fear, fate and so forth. Geers explains that the plastic mirror is a by-product of the oil manufacturing industry, a stark reminder of the price that nature has to pay to support our lifestyles built around the fossil fuel industry.
Merging tradition with design, the African with transcendental, the Fante Asafo traditional flags from Ghana are reworked into post nationalist symbols of identity.
The journey of the individual is mapped out in words and letters from the first breath unto death, through defeat and the sweat of creation in the theatre of life.
The journey of constructing our individual identity is symbolised by the black pirate flag of radical subjectivity marked out by the simple act of needing to eat in order to exist.
The theme of the disenfranchised individual up against the political wall of social control is a recurring theme in Geers’ work. Recoiling against the mindless acceptance of social habit and generalised advertorial experience, Geers flips the pyramids of power to ennoble the individual.
The self is reconfigured as king, every individual as royal and the noble self is heralded as a subjective protest against the loss of individuality in an all-consuming global mass. In a series of watercolours, the self is recognised through the act of doing. Descartes’ maxim, “I think therefore I am” is embodied through the act of thinking about art itself, but not at the exclusion of other acts.
The act of doing supersedes that of thinking and the body is celebrated as it walks, talks, drinks, smokes, takes, makes, breaks and fucks.
The act of thinking is transformed into doing and liberates itself from being a mere verb into a royal charge that becomes verbal only to be written up and through contemplation expands reading into the proverbial. According to Geers “I am a king therefore I do!”
South African-born, Belgian artist Kendell Geers changed his date of birth to May 1968 in order to give birth to himself as a work of art. Describing himself as an ‘AniMystikAKtivist’, Geers takes a syncretic approach to art that weaves together diverse Afro-European traditions, including animism, alchemy, mysticism, ritual and a socio-political activism laced with black humor, irony and cultural contradiction.
Geers’s work has been shown in numerous international group exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale (2007) and Documenta (2002). Major solo shows include Heart of Darkness at Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape Town (1993), Third World Disorder at Goodman Gallery Cape (2010) and most recently Songs of Innocence and of Experience at Goodman Gallery Johannesburg (2012). His exhibition Irrespektiv travelled to Newcastle, Ghent, Salamanca and Lyon between 2007 and 2009. Geers was included on Art Unlimited at Art 42 Basel in 2011. Work by Geers was included on Manifesta 9 in Genk, Limburg, Belgium and a major survey show of his work was exhibited at Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany in 2013.