Life has become a foreign language
Goodman Gallery Cape Town
14 July – 3 September 2022
Goodman Gallery presents Life has become a foreign language – Cassi Namoda’s first exhibition in Cape Town, featuring new paintings produced by the artist during a residency in the city earlier this year. The exhibition follows Namoda’s second solo exhibition on the African continent and her debut exhibition at Goodman Gallery Johannesburg in 2020.
Life has become a foreign language pulls at familiar thematic threads in Namoda’s practice: imagination, feeling, archive, memories and regional context. These new paintings also meditate on the history of painting itself and consider the significance of photography in the African continent, stitched together with Namoda’s personal experiences. Namoda experiments with shadows for the first time, moving between representations of haunting memories or visions within surrealist landscapes.
The exhibition is divided into two series defined by differing scales and approaches to addressing the complex realities experienced by Black women, reflecting specifically on pain, vulnerability and alienation. There is prominent experimentation with painting methods as well as a focused palette with a recurring use of the colour orange across both series.
The large-scale works anchor the show, presenting powerful portraits of a Malagasy woman and mark the artist’s largest portraits to date. Referencing the intensity of Francisco Goya’s Black Paintings and embracing surrealist visual cues, these works offer feminine remakes of Namoda’s masculine figures from her recent solo exhibition The sun has not yet burnt off the dew in São Paulo last year.
Life has become a foreign language expands on Namoda’s impulse to revisit historic scenes, adding layers of complexity rooted in a desire to recontextualise. By referencing archival images, such as Emperor Negus’ wet nurse and Mozambican photographer Ricardo Rangel’s reflections on life in Mozambique, Namoda marks moments of celebration and highlights the historic residue on Black women’s lives, offering new readings that interrogate the context that informed the original images.
Namoda uses distinct visual strategies to push against exoticising readings of her work: recurring figures possess piercing green eyes which stare definitely back at the viewer and the flat colour backgrounds remove context and sense of place. The artist applies elements of photorealism to parts of the body to insert layers and reinforce surrealist sentiments. For example, the skin of the figures is illuminated, presenting an essence of light entry but without indication of its source. The impression of self-illumined figures suggests a divine otherworldly presence.
Cassi Namoda (b. Maputo, Mozambique, 1988) has lived between Kenya, Haiti, Benin, Indonesia and currently resides between New York and Los Angeles in the United States.
Namoda’s painting practice transfigures the cultural mythologies and historical narratives of life in post-colonial Africa, particularly in relation to the artist’s native Mozambique. Her elusive paintings draw on literary, cinematic and architectural influences specific to the Luso-African vantage point. The figures who reappear in Namoda’s paintings also convey this hybridity: they emerge from African indigenous religions just as much as they spring from Western mythologies.
Across her practice, Namoda references the art historical canon and vernacular photography in equal measure. While appearing straightforward, her images are conceptually rigorous and portray figures with complex narratives. Namoda is also attentive to landscape, creating scenes that depict both the rural and the urban through a surreal lens. Her landscapes resound with the features of equatorial life – blazing suns, palm trees – but they are mythic in their impeccable representation, mirroring the subjects that populate them.
Key solo exhibitions: Bar Texas, 1971, (2018), Library Street Collective, Detroit, USA; We Killed Mangy Dog (2018), Harper’s Books, Hamptons, USA; To live long is to see much (2020), Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg; You’ll be old too one day. Life isn’t always young and sweet. (2020), François Ghebaly, Los Angeles, USA; and Tropical Depression (2021) Xavier Hufkens, Brussels, Belgium.
Public collections: Pérez Art Museum Miami, Miami, USA; Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, USA; MACAAL, Marrakesh, Morocco; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, USA.
Namoda studied cinematography at the Academy of Arts in San Francisco, USA. In addition to her degree, travel has had a profound influence on her thematic reflections and mechanisms for storytelling in her work.
Cassi Namoda (b. 1988) is a painter whose work transfigures the cultural mythologies and historical narratives of life in post-colonial Africa, particularly those of the artist’s native Mozambique. Namoda’s paintings are highly elusive, drawing upon literary, cinematic and architectural influences that capture the expansiveness of her specifically Luso-African vantage point. The idiosyncratic subjects who appear and reappear in Namoda’s paintings also convey this hybridity: they emerge from African indigenous religions just as much as they spring from Western mythologies. Her work borrows from an art historical canon and arises from vernacular photography in equal measure. While they appear straightforward, her images are conceptually rigorous and portray figures with complex narratives. Namoda is equally attentive to landscape, creating scenes that depict both the rural and the urban through a surreal lens. Having lived in Haiti, the United States, Kenya, Benin, Uganda and other countries, Namoda has acquired a grasp of place that is at once grounded and subversive. Her landscapes resound with the features of equatorial life – blazing suns, palm trees –but they are mythic in their representation and pleasantly impeccable – mirroring the subjects that populate them.