Goodman Gallery presents A Different Now is Close Enough to Exhale on You, a group exhibition in three parts, guest-curated by Yaounde-born, Berlin-based curator and writer Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung. The exhibition takes place across our Johannesburg and Cape Town galleries alongside a satellite exhibition at Umhlabathi Collective in Johannesburg.
Featured artists at Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg: Leo Asemota, Karimah Ashadu, Rehema Chachage, Adama Delphine Fawundu, Eric Gyamfi, Sabelo Mlangeni, Farkhondeh Shahroudi, Dior Thiam, Rubem Valentim, Sunette L. Viljoen.
The exhibition’s conceptual framework extends from musings over the lyrical content of Cameroonian singer-songwriter and political activist Lapiro de Mbanga’s anthem No Make Erreur (1986). At the heart of the show is an exploration of the systems and relationships that comprise the history of power, extraction and exploitation. It also highlights the histories of resilience, defiance and communion that exist despite dehumanising forms of subjugation. This is articulated through the works of 20 artists from across multiple geographies:
“I wanted to bring together artists whose works I have deeply admired, especially because their works are framed between the polarities of poeticality and politicality. What they all have in common is an ability to approach some of the most sensitive sociopolitical issues with prudence, profundity, and in solidarity, while still possessing a strong aesthetic bearing. When I was approached to curate this exhibition, I was reading Eloghosa Osunde’s essay ‘& Other Stories,’ from which I borrowed the exhibition’s title, which symbolised something of a trust that in these times of dread, artists and culture at large play an important role in crafting our worlds” - Ndikung.
Featuring works that engage with climate change, spatial histories and narratives of conquest and oppression, the entangled nature of the exploitation of people and nature are examined. Ndikung builds a geographical and temporal map, gesturing towards the precarity of human existence constructed through processes of othering that can be found at the core of the colonial project.
Art is also explored as the space in which the work of allyship, conviviality and solidarity can be practised. The inclusion of works that explore remembrance and resistance enables an avenue for unpacking the position that art holds in pushing back against systemic erasure.
The exhibition extends to Umhlabathi Collective located at the old Market Photo Workshop in downtown Johannesburg. Titled Downtown Theory: Degrees of comparison, this satellite show focuses on a selection of photographs by members of the collective, namely Jabulani Dhlamini, Lebohang Kganye, Andile Komanisi, Tshepiso Mabula ka Ndongeni, Tshepiso Mazibuko, Sabelo Mlangeni Andrew Tshabangu, Thandile Zwelibanzi. This show grapples with questions about what it means to live in the now while haunted by ghosts of the past. It builds on the Goodman Gallery exhibitions by considering physical and political topographies.
“For many of us who grew up in other parts of the African continent, we have always looked at South Africa’s liberation struggles as our collective struggles. SA’s dreams of freedom are deeply entangled with the rest of the continent’s. Almost three decades after the transition, one can observe that the power gradients have shifted hands, but still exist, and the Africans from other parts of the continent who once upon a time solidarized with struggling South Africans have become the target. So the question posed by Umhlabathi Collective “what it means to live in the now while haunted by ghosts of the past” is a fundamental one and explains why it was so important to conceive of this show in Cape Town and Johannesburg, and invite international artists as well as our people on the ground to deliberate on that different now that is close enough to exhale on us all” - Ndikung.
The exhibition taking place across three locations allows for the artworks and the themes to be read together and apart. In this way, the artworks speak to each other not only across the gallery floor, but between cities.
Dr. Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung (b.1977,Yaoundé, Cameroon) is a curator, author and biotechnologist. He is the founder and artistic director of SAVVY Contemporary in Berlin and is the artistic director of Sonsbeek20–24, a quadrennial contemporary art exhibition in Arnhem, the Netherlands. He is artistic director of the 13th Bamako Encounters 2022, a biennale for African photography in Mali. Ndikung was the curator-at-large for Adam Szymczyk’s Documenta 14 in Athens, Greece and Kassel, Germany in 2017; a guest curator of the Dak’Art biennale in Dakar, Senegal in 2018. Together with the Miracle Workers Collective, he curated the Finland Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2019. He is currently a professor in the Spatial Strategies MA program at the Weissensee Academy of Art in Berlin. From 2023 he will take on the role of Director and Chief Curator at Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) in Berlin.
Dans mon rêve / In my dream, constructed with cardboard, newspaper, cotton thread and acrylic, alludes to a philosophy towards life that places emphasis on the significance of hope. Here Dakouo considers the importance of staying strong when facing uncomfortable circumstances and the power that comes from being able to transcend these difficulties. This is enabled by holding on to the idea that a better day is coming.
The photographic series shows an encounter with an architectural document, lit with a digital projector and shot on large format black and white film. The work orbits around a pdf document, a Heritage Impact Assessment that is publicly available online, as an embedded reference to a site with a difficult history and a determined future. The sets are fragmented, model-like arrangements where different interests meet – that of economic investment, the health industry and historical preservation. The complexity of the document and the actual place is only pointed at, instead what is shown is a certain interested or invested gaze devoid of pragmatic economies. Muted and focused on a future use, this is the gaze of the developer. Somewhat intrigued but also idle, it is detached from history, a seductive, glowing moment situated between an invested interest, criticality and a morbid neutrality.
The inclusion of Last Call and Best Kept Secret follows Mckinney’s New York exhibition titled Golden Hour where she expands and deepens her exploration into female subjecthood. Depicted in abstractly domestic settings, the figures in Mckinney’s work offer a radical possibility: a space in which a person is utterly free to be themselves, an existence circumscribed in aesthetic terms of their own devising. These figures inhabit a sense of freedom and raw emotion one feels in the safety of their own space. For Mckinney, the spatial possibilities offered by painting are an entry point into accessing universal human experiences and spiritual truths.
In this work Oguibe calls attention to the need to recognise sex work as labour, and to protect sex workers’ rights to work safely. It highlights the right to earn a living without the historical and perennial challenges that have demonised and subjected sex workers to a precarious existence at the margins of society.
Sex Work Is Honest Work is animated by the death of a young woman named Nokuphila Kumalo who was kicked and stomped to death on a Cape Town street by a man later identified as renowned South African artist Zwelethu Mthethwa. Kumalo was only twenty-three-years old. The artwork explores the confluence of morality, legality and capital around sex work looking into the historical denial of this form of labour as work and examining its complexities as migrant or indentured labour. In addition to the prevalence of continued violence towards sex workers, the work confronts patriarchal biases. It ultimately foregrounds the agency of sex workers to emphasise people’s freedom to work in any domain.
Paul Maheke’s Taboo Durag (2021) is a performance work that explores the porous interface between vulnerability and resilience. A dance solo unfolds different narratives and choreographic registers with a score that swells up through bass-heavy ambience and vocals.
Created during the 2020 lockdown, the intensely personal work is rooted in the ways in which invisible, and yet sometimes very concrete forces, affect our bodies as well as our identities and how we experience ourselves. These forces comprise everything from the political and social understanding of our history, to more mystical and spiritual understandings. It also includes the sonic, inter-human and physical forces such as gravity that surround us.
Conveying a narrative around violence and acts of violence over bodies, Taboo Durag utilises sound, text and movement to speak to themes of trauma and, in turn, healing both as personal catharsis and as a way of reaching out to establish a form of touch, without physical contact.
Keli Safia Maksud
Provisional Notes on Freedom utilizes ‘Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika’, as a starting point to think about collective voice beyond borders; this is the South African hymn that turned into a Pan-African liberation song and was later adopted as the national anthems of five countries in Africa. Maksud is interested in how this anthem swells and echoes out from South Africa to other parts of the continent and to the diasporas mapping space, in this case black space, beyond formal borders.
In her work, Maksud thinks of national anthems as sonic borders, but sound, as we know, is omnidirectional and cannot be contained. Therefore, in this work she uses ideas based on leakage (as in sound leakage) and bleeding (as in light bleeding) as a framework to think about notions of excess. The installation includes embroideries of music taken from various sheet music of the anthem. On the one side, there are marks that resemble music. On the other, there are rhizomatic marks that are illegible, speaking metaphorically to a type of colonial order on the one side and a refusal of this order on the other. The sound component is generated from various people whistling the anthem and then is manipulated through various software.
Adama Delphine Fawundu
For Mama Adama: Hymns and Parables is a spiritual conversation between Fawundu and her grandmother, Adama. As the only child in her immediate family born in the US, cost, distance and a horrific civil war only allowed the artist to meet her grandmother twice. Although their physical bodies only shared space briefly, their spirits have always been intertwined. As a child, Fawundu was obsessed with photographs of her grandmother. She was also intrigued by the beautiful hand-dyed and batik garra fabrics present in her home that were made by her grandmother.
With this series, Fawundu incorporates her grandmother’s fabrics to make large film negatives and positives in order to use a variety of photographic processes to create new designs and patterns. Inspired by the layered nature of the garra fabrics, the series includes photo lumens, cyanotypes, and screen printing, mixed media on Guinea Brocade textiles and cotton paper. So much of this work is about creating new patterns and new languages while activating her body and ancestral memory. While making this work, she thinks about the complex nature of identity, as well as a multi-layers connection between Africa and its Diaspora.