In the advent of the South African lockdown, travelling was halted and I was frozen in the confines of my home. My house became an office and a studio where I viewed exhibitions from my kitchen while cooking and attended conferences while seated at the dinner table. My television and my computer screen became a window through which I could access other realities, and allow myself to be retrieved by others through my screen. In this way, I fabricated my personal archive through various media and in my own point of view. This liminality of place exceeded what is allegedly the conventional way of doing things.
A few examples of navigating became apparent to me and I began to map them out as an exercise of orbiting and performing space through various vistas. I created a virtual ticket that allowed me to travel and tour fictional geographies. In my quest of finding imagined topographies I later titled my body of work A Navigation Guide to Kwanqingetshe; a space of stagnation.
Kwanqingetshe is a place that explores issues of identity, archiving and dispossession within a post-lens era. I situate these concerns through the parallel between fact and fiction and I am fascinated by the results that emerge when documentary and fantasy collide.
The body of work renders evidence-based material as it is fashioned towards fiction, particularly around the internet and social media known as “deep fakes”. Some of these concerns reside in finding a space that cannot be actualised but rather can be occupied conceptually.
The exhibition looks at ways of occupying land virtually and it attempts to discover how space is illegally occupied. I look at these occupations as timelines, for example, the context of Marikana and how evidence does not necessarily protect those it is supposed to grant narrative and dignity to.
In Swaving Through the Portholes the future is told in the present and explored through a fictional figure I named Godide, who travels through “the port of the unknown”. We see him engulfed by other bodies suggested by photographic markings on his body.
This work suggests how memory is both a digital register and an intangible object. Godide travels by boat which carries spiritual undertones, like casting the remains of human ashes into the water. To cleanse oneself one would bathe in the sea.
The work also alludes to issues of how black bodies remain commodities, experienced by excessive poverty exposed by the lockdown. However, there is also grace in the body suggested through Godide’s pose, which points to the resilience of black people despite compromises propagated by our institutions.
The collision between reality and fantasy is interesting because something happens when they meet. I think memory becomes so unreliable because it is fragmented, it’s like a piece of a puzzle or a frame of a photograph, which isolates one pixel from reality.
This fragmentary stance is also explored in The Voyeur, where a figure, umagobhozi, is looking from outside the window. The flat plane of the frame against the barren landscape points to the inscriptions people perform on the lands through gestures of the everyday seen through the safety bib worn by construction workers.
This body of work speaks largely to the exhibition titled The Oasis, currently displayed at Hallmark House, a hotel near Maboneng in downtown Johannesburg. In the composition of the exhibition space, the corridors are constructed as a labyrinth or a maze, through which audiences can move in an unscripted fashion.
The works presented as part of The Oasis exhibition render spaces that were thought to be difficult to access. In this way the works become landmarks and a ticket to navigate Kwanqingetshe.
Phumulani Ntuli is among nine independent artists taking part in The Oasis, a collaborative project with Studio Nxumalo, Steyn Entertainment x Dusse. Exhibited at Hallmark Hotel (54 Siemert Road, New Doornfontein, Johannesburg), this project will be on show until 14 February