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Gallery MOMO is proud to present Africa Without Borders, a solo exhibition by Adolf Tega.
The paintings in this series speak to utopias both real and imagined. Mwanawehvu (Son of the Soil) and After the Step Down commemorates Robert Mugabe’s resignation after three decades in power. This historical moment sparked a spontaneous sense of unity across Zimbabwe and its diasporas. Long-awaited celebration in the streets of Harare saw utopia as a real if fleeting, possibility. But, as always, utopias are short-lived; the military coup did little to stabilise the economy, repair fractured relationships, or make structural changes in governmental rule. In Tega’s paintings, faces and bodies exercise tension as much as celebration; the collective mood oscillates between hope and uncertainty, anticipation and dissipation.
Wenera is based off a photograph of Tega’s great uncle, who migrated from Zimbabwe to South Africa seeking work in the mines. Although they never met, Tega grew up hearing stories about “the country full of honey.” This utopian narrative perhaps erases the violent realities of unhoming, both past, and present. But, Tega chooses to archive the dream before it’s deferred, where unfulfilled ambitions are seen as interrupted rather than forestalled.
Flame lilies, Zimbabwe’s national flower, are the connective tissue between these works. Commonly grown in home gardens across the country, the flame lily has long been used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of illnesses. For Tega, the flower is a symbol of collectivity: parents plant offcuts of the bushes in their children’s homes; neighbours borrow lilies from each other; herbal recipes have been passed on intergenerationally. Scattered I and II take the flower as their only subject matter, speaking to rootedness, growth, healing, and the ties that bind a common story.
As its title implies, the utopia envisioned in Africa Without Borders remains unstable and unrealised. Nevertheless, against the backdrop of inter-state conflict and xenophobic violence, Tega memorialises small moments in which human connection triumphs over nihilism, and perhaps, encourages us to hold out hope for a world to come.
Adolf Tega was born in Harare in 1985. He started making art at the age of ten, inspired by his uncle and brother, who are also artists. Tega studied art at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, where he had his first group show. Tega moved to South Africa in 2008, and thereafter joined Good Hope Art Studios. Tega produced his first solo show for AVA Gallery in Cape Town in 2012, and his second for World Art in 2014. Tega’s work can be found in several institutional and private collections, including Spier and the University of Cape Town. Recently, Tega was chosen for Nando’s Creative Exchange 2020, followed by an exhibition at Basha Uhuru Freedom Festival. It can be said that the history of painting is a history of flowers. Flowers in paintings are elusive—and in a way, empty—signifiers, fluctuating constantly in meaning and value. To use the cliché, what’s in a name? A rose by any other… A flower can be whatever the viewer wants it to be. The metaphor can be extended to Salley’s paintings in general, which inhabit worlds both familiar and uncanny, inspiring multiple possible imaginaries: