Marcia Kure. Her felt cut-outs, orange afro-wig and scarred shield manifest a critique of patriarchy through references to African heroines, such as the Amazons of Dahomey and the Nigerian activist Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti (1900–1978).
Scarring reappears in Otobong Nkanga’s The Weight of Scars, 2015, a vast tapestry where two half- igures with multiple arms manipulate cords linking a network of cameos, each holding photographic images of raw materials and abandoned territories. This forms part of her series challenging the exploitation of natural resources in Africa by hidden economic powers and unrelenting colonisation. It is interesting to note that, while Nkanga was born in Kano, she lives and works in Antwerp, which has surely nourished her exquisite practice of tapestry. The theatrical aura of this work is shared by many of the wall-pieces in this exhibition, a characteristic that might well derive from their frequent use of objects as props in their dramatic installations. Art from South Africa is particularly strong in this area: the scattered crutches, suitcases and ceramic dogs in Red Winter in Gugulethu, 2016, by Kemang Wa Lehulere allude to the police violence during apartheid. The use of metaphor through materials, such as the pigments staining a tapestry by Konaté in Homage to the Writer, 2017, registers revolt far more effectively than the fastidious collages of scholarly texts and popular objects in Adéagbo’s Artists and Writing, 2014.
A thorough survey of the past two decades of decolonial struggles and their expression through making and exposing art is given in the catalogue by Christine Macel, the main curator. Her subtext about the problems facing museums in situating these struggles reveals how enterprising the Pompidou Centre has been in its collecting policy over the past decade, since all the works on show are from its own collection. This af irms ideological courage. Owing to the fact that the majority of the artists are comparatively unfamiliar to western viewers, their works open up new and very different visions of cultural activism, viewing decolonisation from diverse indigenous perspectives. Examples are proli ic in the bold selections of artists from Africa and Asia by the two other curators, Alicia Knock and Hung Ma. The force of the works is o en undermined by the didactic language of the texts, however, which is intended to interpret but is o en incongruous or even whimsical (such as naming Paul Gilroy the ‘founder’ of cultural studies).
Theatricality recurs in the burlesque comedy played around monumental statues, for example in the photo work by Colombian artist Ivan Argote, who covered a statue of a so-called ‘Discoverer of the Amazon’ with mirrors, or in Turistas, 2012, where he draped ponchos onto statues of great Spanish conquistadors ‘to reinterpret colonial narratives’. Photomontage technique is used in Rede ining the Power, 2011, by Kiluanji Kia Henda from Luanda, who poses a small black female activist loudly declaiming from the top of a modernist white podium.
It is ironic that the recent western agitation around the toppling of statues to slave traders was anticipated far earlier by artist-activists in the ‘Global South’. The contemporary western connotation of decolonisation as a ‘buzz word’ is revealed to be a sign of ignorance by this exemplary exhibition, which opens up so many new re lections on activism in art and its rapport with anthropology. Virginia Whiles is an art historian, critic and author.
Alliance of the Southern Triangle (AST),
006_RISK, 2020, installation view
To Dream Effectively Focal Point Gallery, Southend-on-Sea 13 September to 17 January It is useful that Protocols for the Phase Transition/ Remembering why it’s worth the ight, 2020, by Diann Bauer and the Alliance of the Southern Triangle (AST) is the irst work most viewers engage with in ‘To Dream Effectively’. Occupying Focal Point’s window space, and designed partly to be seen from outside the gallery, one facet of the work consists of eight written protocols recon iguring keywords with a view towards generating new political imaginaries. For example, ‘001’ rejects the pseudo-Darwinian concept of ‘survival of the ittest’ underpinning adaptation and instead posits the latter as dynamic synthesis in response to contingency; ‘003’ reconceptualises navigation as less a means for orienting oneself geographically than as riding the signal/noise lows of overabundant information; and ‘005’ refuses the linear construction of time in favour for recognising its existence as recursive network. Together with the other protocols, they address de-territorialising strategies against the homogenisation of capitalism; but, more locally, they also serve as keywords for the group exhibition as a whole.
‘To Dream Effectively’ takes its preliminary coordinates from Ursula K Le Guin’s novel The Lathe of Heaven, in which the lead character, George Orr, has dreams that actually transform lived reality for everyone on the planet; only he, however, is capable of recalling the prior pre-dreamed reality. His worldaltering power – in which a passive activity is granted total agency – is used and abused by other protagonists, who seek to impose their personal wish ful ilments upon Orr’s dreams, resulting in unintended consequences.
Sci- i as a genre, Le Guin argues, is descriptive rather than predictive, thereby disclosing the present. Such a standpoint is palpable throughout the exhibition, though sci- i also permits the ‘nowness’ of the present to be construed as a nonlinear layering of horizons rather than as a singular point. Film-based works, with their dependency on temporality, unsurprisingly dominate the exhibition and re-explore the alignment of past, present and future. Emilija Škarnulytė has professed her fascination with notions of ‘deep time’ and Abyssal Plains, 2020, a striking immersive video work, evinces the complexity of her engagement with it. Evident here is a deep time that travels in multiple directions simultaneously rather than just backwards, whereby a distant past beyond all
Art Monthly no. 442, December 2020 – January 2021
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