South African Pavilion exhibits at 58th International Art Exhibition in Venice

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The Stronger We Become LogoThe South African Department of Arts and Culture and commissioner, Consul-General Titi Nxumalo, have appointed curators Nkule Mabaso and Nomusa Makhubu to curate the South African Pavilion at the 58th International Art Exhibition in Venice.

Nkule Mabaso and Nomusa Makhubu
Nkule Mabaso and Nomusa Makhubu have curated “Fantastic”, a touring international group exhibition in 2015; and “There are mechanisms in Place”, a solo exhibition of the work of Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum in 2018, and are currently working on a creative publication of the same title.

The stronger we become proudly features artists Dineo Seshee Bopape, Tracey Rose and Mawande Ka Zenzile in a three-person exhibition running from 11 May to 24 November 2019 in Venice, Italy.

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Premised on notions of resilience and resistance, set within historically-centred themes of land, dispossession, and institutional knowledge and power – The stronger we become is a reflection on political transition in the context of post-1994 South Africa.

Tracey Rose
Tracey Rose

The title of the exhibition references the song (Something Inside) So Strong, written by Labi Siffre in 1984 in response to the crises of Apartheid South Africa. More than three decades later, ascendant social resistance has unearthed and offers anew, intricate historical narratives of social injustice. This exhibition is presented as an active prompt to inspire critical engagement with South Africa’s collective past, present and future.

Dineo Seshee Bopape
Dineo Seshee Bopape

The 58th International Art Exhibition – curated by Ralph Rugoff – is titled May You Live In Interesting Times – drawing on a phrase of English invention that has long been mistakenly cited as an ancient Chinese curse that invokes periods of uncertainty, crisis and turmoil.

The creative concept of the South African Pavilion responds to Rugoff’s suggestion that “uncertainty, crisis and turmoil” necessitate focusing on “art’s social function as embracing both pleasure and critical thinking”. The stronger we become is about reflection and interaction.

Mawande Ka Zenzile
Mawande Ka Zenzile

Each of the three selected artists – Dineo Seshee Bopape, Tracey Rose, Mawande Ka Zenzile – bring unique perspectives to the multifaceted predicaments of contemporary South African life through humour and satire. The exhibition asks: How are social disparities mediated? How are certain conditions overcome? How does continuous social engagement reinforce social resilience? Through the artworks of the selected artists, the exhibition seeks to show the many sides to a story and a plurality of knowledge.

Lerole: Footnotes (The struggle of memory against forgetting) (detail), 2018 Mixed media installation view Galerie Sfeir-Semler, Hamburg/Beirut Courtesy Galerie Sfeir-Semler, Hamburg /Beirut
Lerole: Footnotes (The struggle of memory against forgetting) (detail), 2018 Mixed media installation view Galerie Sfeir-Semler, Hamburg/Beirut Courtesy Galerie Sfeir-Semler, Hamburg /Beirut

Dineo Bopape’s immersive installations show how politics shape our perceptions of place and time. Her work captures the discord of displacement through land dispossession. It navigates geopolitics and territorialisation. In Bopape’s installations, land is a repository of histories and memories that are entrenched, excavated and lived. In this way, she engages with geographic situatedness as the root of politics. While Bopape’s installations stage intricate scenes of history and myth, they also facilitate interaction and play.


Art Thou Not Fair: KniggerKhaffirKhoon aka “KKK”, 2014-2017 copyright the artist, courtesy Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg and Dan Gunn Gallery London
Art Thou Not Fair: KniggerKhaffirKhoon aka “KKK”, 2014-2017 copyright the artist, courtesy Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg and Dan Gunn Gallery London

Tracey Rose’s performance and multimedia art confront the absurdities of contemporary life. Taking on current political affairs and historical narratives, Rose deploys humour as a way to rebel against habitual political dominance. Her satirical tongue-in-cheek performances in which she tackles gender, race and sexuality subvert the established social order. Through her references to specific historical figures, she questions canonical history and parodies authoritative knowledge.


When You Look At Me My Spirit Leave My Body (diptych), 2019. Cow dung, gesso, and oil on canvas. Image courtesy of the artist and Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town
When You Look At Me My Spirit Leave My Body (diptych), 2019. Cow dung, gesso, and oil on canvas. Image courtesy of the artist and Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town

Mawande Ka Zenzile’s creative practice engages with how knowledge operates. Using riddles, idioms and proverbs, Ka Zenzile probes different world views, epistemologies or ways of knowing and modes of living. His paintings are anchored in African intellectual heritage and the effects of its suppression through colonial domination. Ka Zenzile’s work divulges the disenchantment and cynicism of youth who are disillusioned with the promise of liberty. Ka Zenzile’s work invites mind-game-like engagement.

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