Goodman Gallery Cape Town
30 August – 29 September 2018
Curated by Liza Essers and Emma Laurence
John Akomfrah // Ghada Amer // Yto Barrada // Lisa Brice // Nolan Oswald Dennis // Regina José Galindo // Ja’Tovia Gary // Yuki Kihara // Grada Kilomba // Misheck Masamvu // Zanele Muholi // Beatriz Santiago Muñoz // Wangechi Mutu // Shirin Neshat // Yinka Shonibare MBE // Mickalene Thomas // Naama Tsabar // Kara Walker // Carrie Mae Weems
In Context: this past was waiting for me takes its cue from contemporary women artists – hailing from America, Guatemala, Egypt, Iran, Morocco, Kenya and Samoa (many with ancestral roots in Africa) – united by an ambition to unfurl suppressed stories.
This is the third iteration of In Context, an ongoing curatorial initiative started by Liza Essers in 2010 in response to South Africa hosting the World Cup and temporarily becoming ‘home’ to the world. This sparked reflection on the complex dynamics of home, which artists like Kara Walker, Yinka Shonibare and Candice Breitz addressed in work dealing with slave narratives, structures of power and institutionalised racism. These themes extended to the second iteration of In Context, titled Africans in America (2016), which was curated by Hank Willis Thomas and spoke to the flows, exchanges and continuities between the continent of Africa and the United States. ‘The project was envisioned as a way of adding to the representation of South Africa, broadening the narrative and taking note of voices from surprising quarters,’ says Essers.
this past was waiting for me continues to mine tensions of place and the body, bringing narratives and identities into focus which have been obscured by history. In reference to colonialism, Grada Kilomba describes this complex interplay between the past and present as ‘a wound that has never been properly treated – an infected wound that always hurts and sometimes bleeds’.
Addressing this ‘wound’ requires acknowledging its existence. Yto Barrada, Wangechi Mutu, Shirin Neshat, Mickalene Thomas, Kara Walker and Carrie Mae Weems, among others, unpack the complex historical dynamics that have come to dictate the ways in which lives are valued and bodies are controlled. The reflection prompted by this work creates a liberating but charged space for transformation – a concept contained in the word ‘waiting’ in the exhibition’s title, which conjures current frustrations around the lack of urgency for social change in South Africa and internationally, giving way to Fallism, Brexit and the rise of Trump. The title of the show, this past was waiting for me is from a Lucille Clifton poem, which speaks to the exhibition’s concerns to revisit and re-construe hidden histories and identities, stating:
i am accused of tending to the past
as if i made it,
as if i sculpted it
with my own hands. i did not.
this past was waiting for me
when i came,
a monstrous unnamed baby,
and i with my mother’s itch
took it to breast
and named it
Artists like Naama Tsabar and Yuki Kihara channel this transformative potential through their work. Using sound and sculpture, Tsabar envisions a utopian world in which attentiveness, passion and solidarity outweigh dominance and discrimination. In Kihara’s film work a reference to the Polynesian demigod of transformation, Maui, embodies the redemptive ability of art to transcend suffering – an ideal that defines the essence of this exhibition.
Grada Kilomba (b. 1968, Lisbon, Portugal) is an interdisciplinary artist and writer born in Lisbon and living in Berlin. Kilomba’s work draws on the repressed history of colonialism and its legacy on memory, trauma, race, gender, and knowledge production: ‘who can speak?’ ‘what can we speak about?’ and ‘ What happens when we speak?’ are three constant questions in Kilomba ’s body of work.
Kilomba is best known for her subversive writing and her unconventional use of artistic practices, in which she gives body, voice and image to her own text, using a variety of formats such as Staged Reading, Performance, and Video Installation. In her work, Kilomba intentionally creates a hybrid space between the academic and the artistic languages, and uses storytelling as a central element for her decolonial practices.
Kilomba‘s work has been described to have the powerful beauty of touching ‘the colonial wound’ with a surgical precision, ’bringing a new, experimental and compelling voice to contemporary art and discourse’ (ARTE Brasileiros 2016). She decolonises by subverting content, undoing standard practices and inventing new methods and places of expression. Kilomba entered the contemporary art world, in 2016, when she was invited and commissioned to develop a artwork for the 32. Bienal de São Paulo.
Kilomba’s work has been presented internationally, including: 10. Berlin Biennale; Documenta 14, Kassel; 32. Bienal de São Paulo; Rauma Biennale Balticum; The Power Plant, Toronto; MAAT Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, Lisbon; Galeria Avenida da Índia, Lisbon; WdW Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam; Secession Museum, Vienna; Bozar Museum,Brussels; SAVVY Contemporary, Berlin; Maxim Gorki Theatre, Berlin, among others. Her written work has been published in numerous international anthologies and translated into several languages. She is the author of Plantation Memories (2008) a compilation of episodes of everyday racism written in the form of short psychoanalytical stories, and released at the International Literature Festival, Berlin. And the co-editor of Mythen, Subjekt und Masken (2008), a pioneer anthology on Critical Whiteness.
In 2010, as part of her „Performing Knowledge“ project, Kilomba started experimenting with the performance of theoretical and political texts on stage. Particularly acclaimed became her staged reading „Plantation Memories“ (2012) based on her own book; and her lecture-performance "Decolonising Knowledge“ (2013), a piece reflecting on the concepts of knowledge, race, gender, and violence: “ What is acknowledged as knowledge? And what is not? Whose knowledge is this? And who is acknowledged to produce knowledge?” She was invited by the Maxim Gorki Theatre, in Berlin, to develop the distinguished artist talk series ‘Kosmos²’ (2015-2017), a political intervention in the cultural discourse/ practice, in collaboration with refugee artists.
With roots in Angola, São Tomé e Príncipe and Portugal, Kilomba studied Clinical Psychology and Psychoanalysis at the ‘ISPA– Instituto Superior de Psicologia Aplicada ’ in Lisbon. There, she worked in the psychiatry department with war survivors from Angola and Mozambique. Strongly influenced by the work of Frantz Fanon, Kilomba started writing, and developing projects on memory, trauma and colonialism, extending her concerns to form, language, and performance. Recognised for her academic excellence, Kilomba received a Ph.D. fellowship from the German Heinrich Böll Foundation, and moved to Berlin, where she attained a Doctorate in Philosophy (summa cum laude) from the Freie Universitä t Berlin, in 2008. Since 2004, She has been lecturing at several international universities, and last, was a Professor at the Humboldt Universitä t Berlin, Department of Gender Studies.
Ghada Amer (b. 1963, Cairo, Egypt) views herself primarily as a painter, but she has worked in a variety of media, producing ceramics, site-specific garden works, photographs, prints, drawings, installations, and performance pieces.
Her work has always explored ideas related to women, femininity, and gender roles. ‘I believe that all women should like their bodies and use them as tools of seduction,’ Amer stated; and in her well-known erotic embroideries, she at once rejects oppressive laws set in place to govern women’s attitudes toward their bodies and repudiates first-wave feminist theory that the body must be denied to prevent victimisation. By depicting explicit sexual acts with the delicacy of needle and thread, their significance assumes a tenderness absent within simple objectification. Amer continuously allows herself to explore the dichotomies of an uneasy world and confronts the language of hostility and finality with unsettled narratives of longing and love.
Amer’s work addresses first and foremost the ambiguous, transitory nature of the paradox that arises when searching for concrete definitions of east and west, feminine and masculine, art and craft. Through her paintings, sculptures and public garden projects, Amer takes traditional notions of cultural identity, abstraction, and religious fundamentalism and turns them on their heads.
She has also created a number of text-based works, most notably the installation piece Encyclopaedia of Pleasure, which comprises fifty-seven canvas boxes inscribed with embroidered texts serving as investigations of sexual and spiritual identity. While her works serve as commentary on the roles of women, they also offer a critique of painting itself, particularly in its largely masculine Abstract Expressionist mode. Her incorporation of thread into the parameters of the canvas legitimates a form of expression seen as particularly feminine.
Amer has shown her work all over the world, including the Istanbul, Johannesburg, Whitney, Gwangju, Sydney and Venice biennales; in major travelling shows such as The Short Century; Looking Both Ways: Art of the Contemporary African Diaspora; and Africa Remix. She has exhibited at P.S. 1 in New York and SITE Santa Fe, and in 2008 the Brooklyn Museum hosted Love Has no End, a retrospective of twenty years of Amer’s work.
Amer trained to be an artist at Villa Arson, Nice, France.
She currently lives and works in New York City.
Nolan Oswald Dennis is an interdisciplinary artist from Johannesburg, South Africa. His practice explores what he calls ‘a black consciousness of space’ : the material and metaphysical conditions of decolonization.
His work questions the politics of space and time through a system-specific, rather than site-specific approach. He is concerned with the hidden structures that pre-determine the limits of our social and political imagination. Through a language of diagrams, drawings and models he explores a hidden landscape of systematic and structural conditions that organise our political sub-terrain. This sub-space is framed by systems which transverse multiple realms (technical, spiritual economic, psychological, etc) and therefore Dennis’ work can be seen as an attempt to stitch these, sometime opposed, sometimes complimentary, systems together. To read technological systems alongside spiritual systems, to combine political fictions with science fiction.
He holds a degree in Architecture from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and a Masters of Science in the Art, Culture and Technology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Shirin Neshat (b. 1957, Qazvin, Iran) completed her education in the USA in 1974, five years later the Islamic Revolution prevented her from returning to her home country for almost twenty years. Her personal experiences as a Muslim woman in exile have informed her practice in which she employs photography, video installation, cinema and performance to explore political structures that have shaped the history of Iran and other Middle Eastern nations. Neshat portrays the alienation of women in repressive Muslim societies interrogating the role reserved for women Islamic value systems. In her practice, she employs poetic imagery to engage with themes of gender and society, the individual and the collective, and the dialectical relationship between past and present, through the lens of her experiences of belonging and exile.
She has mounted numerous solo exhibitions at museums internationally, including: the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Serpentine Gallery, London; Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin; and the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. Recent solo exhibitions include: Kunstraum Dornbirn, Austria; Faurschou Foundation, Copenhagen; Kunsthalle Tübingen, Germany; and Museo Correr, Italy, which was an official corollary event to the 57th Biennale di Venezia in 2017. A major retrospective of her work was exhibited at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 2013. Neshat was awarded the Golden Lion Award, the First International Prize at the 48th Biennale di Venezia (1999), the Hiroshima Freedom Prize (2005), and the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize (2006). In 2009, Neshat directed her first feature-length film, Women Without Men, which received the Silver Lion Award for “Best Director” at the 66th Venice International Film Festival. Dreamers marked her first solo show on the African continent, which exhibited at Goodman Gallery Johannesburg in 2016. That same year, Neshat featured in the New Revolutions: Goodman Gallery at 50 exhibition in Johannesburg and in the Summers group exhibition at Goodman Gallery Cape Town. In 2017, Neshat was awarded the prestigious Praemium Imperiale award for Painting. That same year, Neshat directed Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida at the Salzburg. In 2017, Neshat was awarded the prestigious Praemium Imperiale award for Painting. That same year, Neshat directed Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida at the Salzburg. This year The Broad Museum in Los Angeles will host a survey exhibition of the last 25 years of Neshat’s work.
The artist lives and works in New York, USA.
Lisa Brice (b.1968, Cape Town, South Africa) negotiates the precarious terrain of artistic production, as she moves between practices of spontaneous drawing and figure painting. She makes use of unexpected painting and printing techniques on a variety of surfaces, which include canvas and tracing paper. For Brice, the act of tracing often leads her to a repetition of similar motifs or figures in her work, sometimes biographical, and at other times art historical: ‘I am attracted to the idea of repetition,’ Brice remarks, ‘Chasing that high, stories told and retold.’
In 2006 Brice had her first solo exhibition of paintings at Goodman Gallery Johannesburg, titled Night Vision, in which she reflected on the uncertainties of childhood. In 2009, a solo show, More Wood for the Fire, was presented at Goodman Gallery Johannesburg; the exhibition detailed Brice’s relationship with the island of Trinidad. In 2011, Brice’s work was included in the Vitamin P2 publication, Phaidon’s major anthology of international painting. In 2012, Brice presented a solo exhibition titled Throwing the Floor at Goodman Gallery in Cape Town. She has had subsequent shows at Goodman Gallery Johannesburg in 2015 titled Well Worn, and in June 2016 she was included on a show at Camden Art’s Centre in London Making & Unmaking curated by Duro Olowu. Brice had her first solo museum exhibition in the UK at the Tate Britain in 2018, where she exhibited large scale paintings which addressed the longstanding art-historical tradition of the female nude.
The artist lives and works in London, UK.