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A New View of Africa curating Africa

Marilyn de Freitas
05/14/2013 11:03:38

Artslink.co.za News
Marilyn de Freitas: 'Trans-Africa – Africa curating Africa' at the Absa Gallery focuses on moving beyond the boundaries of African identity.

Contemporary Africa art has been discussed in various themes. Curators develop exhibitions surrounding African art within its cultural and historical context using intellectual historical knowledge and changing mindsets. One can determine three inherent themes in African curating and artworks. Firstly, identity is seen as an important inherent factor when exploring the African context through traditions, rituals, religious beliefs and the impact of colonialism on these factors. Second, Protest or Resistance Art showed a rejection of outside influences and restraints becoming an inherently political statement against controlling powers. Lastly, as we move into further into a more postmodern society, the African focus moves towards a hybridization of cultures, ideas, behaviors where we no longer aim for Western versus Traditional but embrace the multifaceted components that make up our society today.

Jayne Crawshay-Hall's exhibition 'Trans-Africa – Africa curating Africa' at the Absa Gallery focuses on moving beyond these boundaries of race, culture and gender and to embrace a trans-cultural identity. This is the first show at the gallery curated by an outside curator. The exhibition is a Masters of Arts Degree in Fine Arts submission by Crawshay-Hall, who is the first Masters candidate at the University of Pretoria to specialize in curatorship. The exhibition features new works by various established and upcoming artists such as Amita Makan, Diane Victor, Erna Bodenstein, Lwandiso Njara, and more as well as works from the Absa Permanent Collection. Crawshay-Hall chose works by artists depicting their reflection of an African identity by place, connections and behaviors.

African artists often communicate through their artworks a reflection of their identities. They search a true understanding and reflection of their identity often influenced by outside social pressures. Works by Lwandiso Njara such as 'Catholic alter boy's toys' reflect a game he used to play during his Catholic schooling, “Building the Temple”. The mechanical elements contrasted with the traditional religious symbolism show how he questions the construction of what identity and culture means in society today. Njara's works often reflect his questioning of his traditional Xhosa roots and his Western Catholic influences and his accepting of the “trans-conscious” identity he is today.

Historically, Resistance Art depicts a forceful comment on the injustices in the South African society often championing the oppressed and rebelling against those in power. Well-known South African artist, Diane Victor is known for depicting these injustices through expressive, political social matter which is often difficult to view. 'Childminder' depicts a paradox of a typical traditional image of a black woman carrying her child on her back and the unknown racial designation of the subject. Victor questions the social and colonial practices and constraints still inherent in society today.

In today's society, we are urged to replace traditional separations of identity, culture and race with new hybrid identities, continuously questioning and adapting. Crawshay-Hall aims to “posit a contemporary understanding of African identity within the public domain, in a space where terms like race, culture, tradition or self/other need not form the basis of identitarian understanding in Africa.” Trans-Africa questions the visual parameters of identity and its underlying truth. Erna Bodenstein's portraits of her adopted son, Mbeki, plays on the relevance of race within personal relationships. Bodenstein, of white Afrikaans background, is mother to adopted Pedi children and she states that her work reflects the cross-culturisation they experience between their traditional African rituals and belief systems and their adopted Afrikaans upbringing.

Amita Makan's self-portraits reflect her own non-singular identity as a South African and an Indian in a post-colonial, post-apartheid and globalized world. She explores her ‘intersecting histories' through her embroideries such as 'Self Portrait: After Klimt's Adele Bloch Bauer, 1907' incorporating her own fingerprints, vintage saris belonging to her late mother, silk thread and organza, vintage sequins and ‘tulle’ (a net material). The works depict both her traditional Indian identity and the Western influences she has experienced. “The ubiquitous sequins are ‘mirror-like’ and allude to self-reflexivity, dream-like states and illusion. The tightly twined silk embroidery thread represents the double helix of my DNA; one strand represents my ancestry, the other my individuality,” states Makan.

Trans-Africa explores Africa in a transcultural way, shying away from exposing differences, favouring a new, changed understanding of what identity is composed of. “In a contemporary understanding, cultural mixing has occurred. Binary differences such as Western/African and black/white have become less pronounced due to globalising processes, which have resulted in interculturalism and transnationalism. This transmutation has delivered a culturally intermixed society, and thus dismantled essential racial stereotypes. The understanding of difference and the essential story is considered in terms of our changing understanding of difference itself through globalisation. Thus my aim is to intervene in past understandings of identitarian issues, and project a new way of considering identity within contemporary culture today,” explains Crawshay-Hall. The exhibition closes 30 May at Absa Gallery and will move to Fried Contemporary Gallery in Pretoria in June 2013.

Marilyn de Freitas
Freelance Arts Journalist and Web Administrator for Art.co.za



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