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Goodman Gallery Cape Town
23 May – 18 July 2015
ruby onyinyechi amanze, Ghada Amer, Candice Breitz, Virginia Chihota, Ivy Chemutai Ng’ok, Otobong Nkanga, Nkiru Oparah, Tracey Rose, Adejoke Tugbiyele, Mickalene Thomas, Kara Walker, Arlene Wandera, Ellen Gallagher
Speaking Back seeks to reveal deeply significant dimensions of culture and subjectivity, history and struggle, by bringing women together as diverse artists to find out what each in her artistically signified yet gendered/racial/sexual/cultural singularity is offering to the world, to us all. It seeks to attain a more complete knowledge of that world, as it is lived, from multiple positions over time and space.
We have a tendency in exhibitions of work by women to generalise the artists as merely exemplars of a gendered collective: women, a sexualising nomination by which they are, as a category lumped together, their singularity annulled. While the exhibition makes space – conceptually and physically – for women artists, it embraces the potential of aesthetic practice to bring forward the singularity of each person and the variations in her specific symbolic capacities. If there are any generalisations to be made, it could be said that Speaking Back, prioritises narration – the use of particularly chosen aesthetic practices to convey a story to an audience. Not just as storytelling, but as speaking authentically, with vulnerability and strength, about who we are, and about the power of narration and its endless possibilities for reinvention.
Presented for the first time in South Africa, Ellen Gallagher is an acclaimed artist who, starting in the mid-1990s, has united various media with a range of subject matter to explore the place, and places, of African Americans. In Odalisque (2005), one of the artworks in the exhibition, Gallagher takes a photograph by Man Ray of Matisse, substitutes Freud’s head for that of Matisse’s and gives the model who is being drawn (and whose dress suggests that she is from that most sexualised and most sexually unequal context, the harem) the artists own face. Like the artist staring back at him from a reclining body, we confront the image of a great narrator of the universal psychic world attempting – it would appear with some awkwardness – to draw, and hence represent, an individual reality. Odalisque prompts us to consider what we can and cannot represent about others and ourselves.
In another instance, Virginia Chihota’s stunning screen prints urge us to reconsider not only the lives and strategies of individual artists but also the circumstances in which African diasporic female identity, visibility, and history have been produced and transformed. Her obsessive re-exploration of themes, such as, marriage and motherhood is transformed into a body of works that is striking in its symbolic resonance, and rife with allusions to everyday life, and religious and folkloric symbolism. In the series, root of the flower we do not know (mudzi weruva ratisingazive, 2014) our encounter with Chihota is dominated by the black female figure she insistently imagines, demonstrating a method of representing the self differently while exercising her right and desire to confirm and consolidate her identity as artist and her experience as female.
Adejoke Tugbiyele’s multimedia aesthetic practice offers a different take on sexual identity and political freedom –an issue all too familiar to South African audiences through the work of local artists and political activists. Tugbiyele is an emerging Nigerian-American artist and activist who spent her formative years growing up in Lagos, Nigeria. Her series of drawings, inspired by the journalistic fervour in Lagos during the passing of Nigeria’s anti-gay laws in 2014, draws attention to the self-righteous moralising inherent in contemporary media narratives surrounding the bill and her conceptual sculpture, Unpray the Flesh (2013) investigates religious complicity in the persecution of marginalised groups through the conjoining of religious symbolism with phallocentric worship. In AfroOdyssey V: Demons Contained, a performative video piece, Tugbiyele delves into her own sexual identifications and the narrative ramifications of ‘coming out,’ for familial and cultural histories.
New York-based artist Mickalene Thomas is best known for her elaborate paintings composed of rhinestones, acrylic and enamel which articulate complex visions of what it means to be a woman and expands stereotypical definitions of beauty. Her film about her mother, former fashion model Sandra Bush, demonstrates her ongoing engagement with portraiture as a key to personal and cultural identity. In the process of this extraordinary film, Thomas reveals the complex role of the mother-daughter bond for each woman’s sense of self. Internationally renowned, Otobong Nkanga employs traces of memory and human activity as the sounding board for narration and ‘the performative’ in her work that negotiate the cycle of art between the aesthetic realm of display and a strategies of de-sublimation that push the status of the artwork as contingency. In her artist book, No Be One Story O! (2010) Nkanga makes a radical artistic departure into the realm of literature itself. Based on a series of earlier drawings, Filtered Memories that represent select childhood and adolescent memories of the artist, the book explores the consequences of memory and, simultaneously, the defamiliarisation of the art object.
Speaking Back suggests and invites an encounter with expanded methods of cultural inquiry and the heterogeneity and creativity of contemporary art in the work of the above-mentioned artists as well as that of Ruby Onyinyechi Amanze, Ghada Amer, Candice Breitz, Tracy Rose, Ivy Chemutai Ng’ok, Nkiru Oparah, Kara Walker, and Arlene Wandera.
Kara Walker was born in Stockton, California, in 1969. She studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and the Atlanta College of Art, and now lives in New York. Walker is well known for her cut-out silhouettes and films that examine, in particular, race, the history of the Antebellum South in the USA, African-American identity, and representations of black women. These tableaux offer a visual paring down of the history of Africa in America but despite their graphic simplicity they are often replete with violence and action. In an interview for the film series Art:21 Walker comments that ‘A lot of my work has been about the unexpected … wanting to be the heroine and yet wanting to kill the heroine at the same time. That kind of dilemma, that push and pull, is the underlying turbulence that I bring to each of the pieces that I make. The silhouette lends itself to avoidance of the subject, not being able to look at it directly.’
Kara Walker began exhibiting her work in 1995. She has had numerous solo exhibitions since then in galleries and museums in the US, Europe, and the Middle East, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Mannheimer Kunstverein in Munich, Deutsche Guggenheim, Tate Liverpool, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She has also participated in group exhibitions such as SITE Santa Fe, the Whitney Biennial, and the Istanbul Biennale. Her works are in many important public collections.
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.
Amer’s 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 has stated. In Amer’s 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, the images’ 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, as well as 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.
Amer 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.
Candice Breitz (b. 1972, Johannesburg, South Africa) is an artist whose moving image installations have been shown internationally. Throughout her career, Breitz has explored the dynamics by means of which an individual becomes him or herself in relation to a larger community, be that community the immediate community that one encounters in family, or the real and imagined communities that are shaped not only by questions of national belonging, race, gender and religion but also by the increasingly undeniable influence of mainstream media such as television, cinema and popular culture. Most recently, Breitz’s work has focused on the conditions under which empathy is produced, reflecting on a media-saturated global culture in which strong identification with fictional characters and celebrity figures runs parallel to widespread indifference to the plight of those facing real-world adversity.
Solo exhibitions of Breitz’s work have been hosted by the Kunstmuseum Bonn (Germany), Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Kunsthaus Bregenz, Palais de Tokyo (Paris), The Power Plant (Toronto), Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (Humlebæk), Modern Art Oxford, De Appel Foundation (Amsterdam), Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (Gateshead), MUDAM / Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean (Luxembourg), Moderna Museet (Stockholm), Castello di Rivoli (Turin), Pinchuk Art Centre (Kyiv), Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève, Bawag Foundation (Vienna), Temporäre Kunsthalle Berlin, White Cube (London), MUSAC / Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León (Spain), Wexner Center for the Arts (Ohio), O.K Center for Contemporary Art Upper Austria (Linz), ACMI / The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (Melbourne), Collection Lambert en Avignon, FACT / Foundation for Art & Creative Technology (Liverpool), Blaffer Art Museum (Houston) and the South African National Gallery (Cape Town).
Selected group exhibitions include South Africa: the art of a nation (British Museum, London, 2016), Laughing in a Foreign Language (The Hayward, London, 2008), The Cinema Effect (Hirshhorn Museum + Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., 2008), Made in Germany (Kunstverein Hannover, 2007), Superstars (Kunsthalle Wien, 2005), CUT: Film as Found Object (Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, 2004), Continuity + Transgression (National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, 2002), Thank You for the Music (Kiasma Museum of Modern Art, Helsinki, 2012), Rollenbilder – Rollenspiele (Museum der Moderne Salzburg, 2011), Performa (New York, 2009), Contemporary Outlook: Seeing Songs (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2009), Remix: Contemporary Art and Pop (Tate Liverpool, 2002) and Looking at You (Museum Fridericianum, Kassel, 2001).
Breitz has participated in biennales in Johannesburg (1997), São Paulo (1998), Istanbul (1999), Taipei (2000), Kwangju (2000), Tirana (2001), Venice (2005, 2017), New Orleans (2008), Göteborg (2003 + 2009), Singapore (2011) and Dakar (2014). Her work has been featured at the Sundance Film Festival (New Frontier, 2009) and the Toronto International Film Festival (David Cronenberg: Transformation, 2013).
Her work has been acquired by museums including the Museum of Modern Art,the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Jewish Museum (in New York), Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (Humlebæk), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa), Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus (Munich), Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), FNAC / Fonds national d’art contemporain (France), Castello di Rivoli (Turin), Hamburger Kunsthalle (Hamburg), M+ / Museum of Visual Culture (Hong Kong), Milwaukee Art Museum, Kunstmuseum St. Gallen, MUDAM / Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean (Luxembourg), MUSAC / Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León (León, Spain), Kunstmuseum Lichtenstein (Vaduz), MONA / Museum of Old and New Art (Tasmania), QAG GOMA / Queensland Art Gallery (Brisbane), Museum of Fine Arts (Boston) and MAXXI / Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo (Rome).
Breitz holds degrees from the University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg), the University of Chicago and Columbia University (NYC). She has participated in the Whitney Museum’s Independent Studio Program and led the Palais de Tokyo’s Le Pavillon residency as a visiting artist during the year 2005-2006. She has been a tenured professor at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Braunschweig since 2007.
Candice Breitz lives and works between Cape Town, South Africa and Berlin, Germany.
ruby onyinyechi amanze (b. 1982, Port-Harcourt, Nigeria) is a visual artist who draws on paper.
amanze’s practice builds around questions of how to create large-scaled drawings that maintain paper’s essence of weightlessness while simultaneously holding a multi-dimensional form or structure.
Using a limited palette of visual elements, including ada the Alien, windows and birds, amanze’s drawings are an illusion of an expansive world situated between nowhere and everywhere. Despite incorporating a recurring host of characters, amanze maintains a non-linear and non-narrative approach to representational drawing, insisting the primary antagonist is the space of the paper itself. The construction of this world is largely centered around an interest in the spatial negotiations found in the three dimensional practices of dance, architecture and design.
Most recently, amanze completed two-year long residencies at the Queens Museum and as part of the Drawing Center’s Open Sessions Program, both in New York. She has exhibited her work internationally in Lagos, London, Johannesburg and Paris, and nationally at the California African American Museum, the Drawing Center and the Studio Museum of Harlem.
amanze earned her B.F.A., Summa Cum Laude, from Tyler School of Art, Temple University, and her M.F.A. from Cranbrook Academy of Art. In 2012-2013, amanze was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
Today she resides between Philadelphia and Brooklyn, but calls multiple places home.