Sense of time and SPace

Johannesburg celebrates the World Cup moment with a showcase of its boldest and most productive artists. Titled SPace—Currencies in Contemporary African Art, it features 25 artists working across mediums. There is no shortage of video art and this sits well with the theme of “location”.

The show is on at Museum Africa in Newtown.
The area itself is laden with meaning: Newtown is a culture zone forever in the making and soon it will be a short distance away from one of the city’s main World Cup fan parks at Mary Fitzgerald Square.

Besides exploring “space”, the show exposes generally myopic Jo’burgers (and possibly the soon-to-come visitors) to works by artists from Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Mozambique and Morocco. The artists on show all seem to grapple with struggle and colonialist memories, beauty and ostentation, and political instability and migration, among other issues.

The South African component is, for obvious reasons, the strongest. Locals include video artist Berni Searle, installation and text artist Willem Boshoff, Kimberley-born conceptualist and fine-art photographer Gabrielle Goliath, Johannesburg-born sculptor Mary Sibande, Alison Kearney (also a university lecturer), video artist Zen Marie, veteran of drawing David Koloane and the art collectives Avant Car Guard and Gugulective from Cape Town.

Among the notable artists from the continent are Bulawayo-born artist, Berry Bickle, a video artist and photographer now based in Maputo with a long-running interest in colonialism and memory, Ghanaian painter Godfried Donkor, whose paintings evoke aspects of popular culture and the glossy media and Moroccan conceptual artists Imad Mansour and El Hassan Echair, part of Collectif 212, a group formed in 2005 by Echair, Mansour and others.

Other artists on show live and work in South Africa. They include Zimbabwe-born Kudzanai Chiurai, Malawi-born tapestry artist Billie Zangewa and the journal Chimurenga, founded by Cameroon-born writer Ntone Edjabe.

In conceiving the exhibition the two curators explored the twin ideas of space and pace. “Space is where ideas are negotiated and meaning produced through various human activities and social practices. Pace refers to speed, the rate at which change or advancement of such activities and practices takes place. Currencies refer not only to movement, fluidity or rhythm but also to currency of an economic nature,” the curators wrote.

In an interview Goniwe said the exhibition is meant to “create space for a debate based on different ideas. It’s a platform for artists from different backgrounds to showcase their work.”

The idea was to bring together artists who explore, not always literally, the concepts of pleasure, intimacy and beauty. Goniwe said that in insisting on those three features, they didn’t mean to laugh off the real difficulties people on the continent face. It’s a recognition that, even though life remains tough in Africa, people still “laugh, kiss, hug and dine”. In their selection of artists they have explored the idea of an elastic Africa: Africans hopping across borders on this continent, other Africans living in the West and whites who live in Africa. “[The idea of ] Africa has been stretched at multiple levels,” Goniwe said.

The choice of the artists shows a disregard for the South African canon. The South African contingent, for instance, features an array of black artists born in the late 1970s and 1980s, artists who came to the public’s attention in the past decade.

So apart from the football artistry, which will (hopefully) be showcased by the African teams, visitors to Johannesburg will also be able to explore artistry that looks at the body in its socioeconomic place.

The exhibition runs at Museum Africa until July 11. A catalogue of the exhibition, with texts by Simon Njami, Abebe Zegeye, Bettina Malcomess, Jimmy Ogonga and Raphael Chikukwa, will be released next month

Percy Zvomuya

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