Goodman Gallery Johannesburg
21 October – 18 November 2017
For Kapwani Kiwanga’s first solo exhibition in Africa, the Paris-based artist investigates the intersection of history, politics and the organic, presenting new work in which the 20th century expression, ‘the sun never sets on the British Empire’ is subtly critiqued.
The Sun Never Sets comprises works of a variety of media, including video installation and sculpture, through which the artist positions the natural world as a ‘witness’ to colonial rule and, thus, an important means of archival documentation in and of itself.
The centrepiece – a video installation from which the exhibition draws its title – serves as the literal and conceptual backdrop for the exhibition, whereby the romanticized image of a sunset operates as a critique of colonial intervention and appropriation of nature for economic ends.
Kiwanga unpacks the ‘collective memory’ of colonialism in Africa by focusing on natural phenomena and the traces of human presence therein. In new work from her ongoing project, Flowers for Africa, the artist consults with florists to re-create flower arrangements, referencing archival imagery from African independence ceremonies, and re-contextualising them in the contemporary gallery space where they gradually wilt and die.
These inherently fragile works point to a process of investigative re-enactment, responding to research from African visual archives to challenge inherent biases in historical records. The flower arrangements become a poignant metaphor for 21st century disillusionment felt in post-independent African societies.
Kiwanga (b. Hamilton, Canada. Lives in Paris), whose multinational identity includes ties to Tanzania, studied Anthropology and Comparative Religion at McGill University. Earlier this year, Kiwanga participated in Documenta 14 in Athens. In 2016, she was the Commissioned Artist for The Armory Show and featured on Goodman Gallery’s major group exhibition New Revolutions. Kiwanga has exhibited at museums around the world, including the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Glasgow Center of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Modern Art of Dublin and the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume in Paris, among others. The Sun Never Sets marks Kiwanga’s first solo exhibition with Goodman Gallery.
Kapwani Kiwanga’s first solo exhibition in Africa, The Sun Never Sets, offers a contemplative analysis of nature and the human histories it belies. Kiwanga’s anthropological background informs the research methodology in her practice. In recent work, the artist deploys archival material to look at how the natural world has been used in human endeavors and how that use (and abuse) is reflected in the physical landscapes left behind. In this way, Kiwanga’s work serves as a comment on colonialism, a project that, by its intent and definition, was about the use of the land and its resources.
The film The Sun Never Sets is a montage of the sun setting in multiple locations, through collaboration with videographers around the world. The foremost significance of the chosen locations is that they are in countries that were once, or are still, under British subjection, evoking the saying from which both the exhibition and the video draw their title: ‘The sun never sets on the British Empire’. The work sets up the temporal notion that colonialism persists even after independence in various contemporary forms, a notion echoed by many living and observing post-colonial experiences.
This motif is heightened in the Flowers for Africa series, where the reconstructed flower arrangements are left to wilt during the course of the exhibition, speaking to the thwarted hope experienced by African countries post-independence.
Through subtle metaphor, careful investigation and weaving together various materially rich elements, Kiwanga creates a quietly impactful exhibition where history is immediate and nature is an earnest witness to human experience.
Kapwani Kiwanga (b. Hamilton, Canada) lives and works in Paris. Kiwanga studied Anthropology and Comparative Religion at McGill University in Montreal and Art at l’école des Beaux-Arts de Paris.
In 2020, Kiwanga received the Prix Marcel Duchamp (FR). She was also the winner of the Frieze Artist Award (USA) and the annual Sobey Art Award (CA) in 2018.
Solo exhibitions include Haus der Kunst, Munich (DE); Kunstinstituut Melly – Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam (NLD); Kunsthaus Pasquart, Biel/Bienne (CHE); MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge (USA); Albertinum museum, Dresden (DE); Artpace, San Antonio (USA); Esker Foundation, Calgary (CA); Tramway, Glasgow International (UK); Power Plant, Toronto (CA); Logan Center for the Arts, Chicago (USA); South London Gallery, London (UK); and Jeu de Paume, Paris (FR) among others.
Selected group exhibitions include Whitechapel Gallery, London (UK); Serpentine Galleries, London (UK); Yuz Museum, Shanghai (CHN); MOT – Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (JPN); Museum MMK für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt (DE); Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden – MACAAL, Marrakech (MAR); National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (CA); Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston (USA); Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (USA); Centre Pompidou, Paris (FR); Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, Montreal (CA); ARoS Aarhus Art Museum, Aarhus (DK) and MACBA, Barcelona (ESP).
She is represented by Galerie Poggi, Paris; Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, Cape Town and London; galerie Tanja Wagner, Berlin.
Kapwani Kiwanga is a Franco-Canadian artist based in Paris. Kiwanga’s work traces the pervasive impact of power asymmetries by placing historic narratives in dialogue with contemporary realities, the archive, and tomorrow’s possibilities.
Her work is research-driven, instigated by marginalised or forgotten histories, and articulated across a range of materials and mediums including sculpture, installation, photography, video, and performance.
Kiwanga co-opts the canon; she turns systems of power back on themselves, in art and in parsing broader histories. In this manner Kiwanga has developed an aesthetic vocabulary that she described as “exit strategies,” works that invite one to see things from multiple perspectives so as to look differently at existing structures and find ways to navigate the future differently.