Challenging South African local histories

Kemang Wa Lehulere
Not even the departed stay grounded
Marian Goodman gallery, London, UK
September 13 – October 20, 2018

We visited this art exhibition a couple of weeks ago at the Marian Goodman gallery in London and it’s now gone. But, nevertheless, I wanted to cover it to introduce you to this artist who is emerging as one of South Africa’s most prominent artistic exports.

As we entered the gallery, I encountered various installations and drawings on the wall made of various materials: wood, metal, chalk, glass and robe; all of them in black and white or the original material. It can be appreciated that the art show has a strong social message, but the artist hasn’t neglected the aesthetical aspects of it. Not only that, he used those aspects to enhance the message, which is something I strongly value. I like art exhibitions with a socio-political message, specially these days in which artists seem to have really strong tools to make us reflect about the society we live in, but I have a preference for the artworks that on top of that are aesthetically interesting.

Kemang Wa Lehulere was born in Cape-town and initially rose to prominence in 2006 with Gugulective, a community-engaged collective co-founded with childhood artistic associate, Unathi Sigenu and based in the former township of Gugulethu, Cape Town. He devoted himself at the time to community engaged performative actions such as creating pamphlets to challenge local histories or setting up interventionist pirate radio stations. Only after years of social activism, he started creating sculptural objects and drawings as a residue or remanent of performance. And he went into formal art education, graduating in 2011.

Drawing on these years of social activism, Wa Lehulere conveys feelings of post-apartheid unrest and other socio-political issues with his artworks, re-enacting what he considers to be ‘deleted scenes’ from South African history.

Some of the elements characteristic of his artistic practice include messages in bottles, sphinx-like ceramic dogs and bird houses that are symbols of the forced removals under apartheid. In addition, there were big boards covered with chalk drawings and various objects suspended by shoelaces from floor to ceiling. However, his most prominent pieces are reconfigured salvaged school desks in wood and metal or just in metal, as we can see on various images below, all of them referring to the 1976 student demonstrations.

Finally, his interest in the Dogon people of Mali and their indigenous astrological knowledge will be reflected in many of the new works, as well as the controversy surrounding his knowledge of the existence of Sirius, a dwarf moon invisible to the naked eye orbiting the Dog Star, despite not having access to astronomical instruments. Kemang used laces to form star constellations, referring not only to the racist repudiation, but also to the repeated negation of opportunities for contemporary young black South Africans.

This art show tells me that art is a powerful tool to express our concerns about the world we live in and not only that, artists like Wa Lehuler manage to do that using a very personal style and effective visual elements.


Desafiando las historias locales de Sudáfrica
Kemang Wa Lehulere
Ni siquiera los difuntos se quedan en tierra.
Galería Marian Goodman, Londres, Reino Unido
13 de septiembre – 20 de octubre de 2018

Visitamos esta exposición de arte hace un par de semanas en la galería Marian Goodman en Londres y ahora ya no está. Pero, he querido cubrirla para presentaros a este artista que se está emergiendo como una de las figuras artísticas más destacadas de Sudáfrica.

Cuando entramos en la galería, encontré varias instalaciones y dibujos en la pared hechos de varios materiales: madera, metal, tiza, vidrio, etc; todos ellos en blanco y negro o en el material original. Se puede apreciar que la muestra de arte tiene un fuerte mensaje social, pero el artista no ha descuidado sus aspectos estéticos. No solo eso, utiliza esos aspectos para ensalzar el mensaje, lo cual valoro ciertamente. Me gustan las muestras de arte con un mensaje socio-político, especialmente en estos días en los que los artistas parecen tener herramientas realmente efectivas para hacernos reflexionar sobre la sociedad en que vivimos, pero tengo preferencia por las obras de arte que, además de eso, son estéticamente interesantes.

Kemang Wa Lehulere nació en Ciudad del Cabo e inicialmente se destacó en 2006 con Gugulective, un colectivo comprometido con la comunidad y cofundado con su socio artístico de la infancia, Unathi Sigenu, y residente en la antigua ciudad de Gugulethu, Ciudad del Cabo. En ese momento se dedicó a hacer demostraciones comprometidas con la comunidad, como crear folletos para desafiar las historias locales o establecer estaciones de radio piratas intervencionistas. Solo después de años de activismo social, comenzó a crear objetos escultóricos y dibujos como un residuo o remanente de su lucha social. Y obtuvo formación artística académica al graduarse en 2011.

Haciendo uso de estos años de activismo social, Wa Lehulere transmite sentimientos de inquietud posterior al apartheid y otros problemas sociopolíticos con sus obras de arte, recreando lo que él considera “escenas borradas” de la historia de Sudáfrica.

Algunos de los elementos característicos de su práctica artística incluyen mensajes en botellas, perros de cerámica con forma de esfinge y casas de aves que simbolizan los retiros forzosos bajo el apartheid. Además, hay tablas grandes cubiertas con dibujos de tiza y varios objetos suspendidos por cordones desde el suelo hasta el techo. Sin embargo, sus piezas más prominentes se reconfiguran como escritorios escolares recuperados en madera y metal o simplemente en metal, como podemos ver en varias imágenes a continuación, todas ellas en referencia a las demostraciones estudiantiles de 1976.

Finalmente, su interés en la gente Dogon de Mali y su conocimiento astrológico indígena se reflejará en muchas de las nuevas obras, así como en la controversia que rodea su conocimiento de la existencia de Sirio, una luna enana invisible a simple vista que orbita alrededor de Dog Star, a pesar de no tener acceso a instrumentos astronómicos. Kemang usó cordones para formar constelaciones de estrellas, refiriéndose no solo al repudio racista, sino también a la negación repetida de oportunidades para los jóvenes sudafricanos negros contemporáneos.

Esta muestra de arte me dice que el arte es una herramienta poderosa para expresar nuestras preocupaciones sobre el mundo en que vivimos, y no solo eso, artistas como Wa Lehuler logran hacerlo usando un estilo muy personal y elementos visuales realmente interesantes y efectivos.

Wa Lehulere - The art blackberryWa lehulere - The art blueberryWa Lehulere - 3 sisters

Making air solid

Past art shows: Rachel Whiteread, Tate Britain
12 September 2017 – 24 January 2018

Rachel Whiteread is one of Britain’s leading contemporary artists and my favourite from the YBA group. The latest art exhibition she had at Tate Britain, London, a few months ago revealed the trajectory of her career over three decades from 1988 to date. Time in which she’s been casting the so-called “negative spaces” using a variety of materials such as plaster, resin, rubber, concrete, metal and paper. But what are Whiteread’s “negative spaces”? The air that surrounds our daily experience or the inner world of objects. We find them in our house, in toilet paper rolls, beneath chairs or inside the mattress we sleep on every night. She makes these “negative spaces” solid with her sculptures.

The original idea comes from the US artist Bruce Nauman work titled “A Cast of the Space Under My Chair” (1965-8) that Whiteread referenced in this art exhibition with her “Untitled (One Hundred Spaces)” (1995) showed across the south part of the Duveen galleries at Tate Britain; 100 casts of the underside of chairs in changing shades of coloured resin and with their own flaws. Whiteread, however, has gone further.

Her work ranges in scale from the modest to the monumental and plays with paradoxes such as capturing human wear and experience with geometric white shapes and minimalism.

Tate Britain showed Whiteread’s most important large scale sculptures such as “Untitled (Book Corridors) 1997-8” and “Untitled (Stairs) 2001”, both of which I captured on two photos here, alongside her more intimate works with domestic objects such as tables, boxes or hot water bottles. And then, in the middle of the art show stood “Untitled (Room 101)”: the plaster cast of the BBC office, demolished in 2003, which inspired George Orwell’s torture chamber in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

I first discovered Whiteread as an artist in 2005 and became intrigued with her work. She then populated the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern with a huge labyrinth-like structure entitled “Embankment” made from 14,000 casts of the inside of different boxes. She chose the form of a cardboard box because of its associations with the storage of intimate personal items and to invoke the sense of mystery surrounding ideas of what a sealed box might contain.

Born in London in 1963, Whiteread studied painting at Brighton Polytechnic and sculpture at the Slade School of Fine Art. She was the first woman to win the Turner Prize in 1993 and went on to represent Britain at the 1997 Venice Biennale. She first came to public attention with the unveiling of her first public commission “House” in London’s East End in 1993. A concrete cast of the interior of an entire Victorian terraced house with imprints or doors, windows and fireplaces in great detail. The house only stood for a few months before its demolition, but heralded Whiteread’s life-long project as an artist: fusing domestic narratives with brutalist architecture and minimalism.

Rachel Whiteread exhibition at Tate Britain was curated by Ann Gallagher and Linsey Young. The exhibition was co-organised with the National Gallery of Art, Washington, curated by Molly Donovan, where it will be shown in autumn 2018, and will also tour to the 21er Haus Vienna and the Saint Louis Art Museum.

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The poetry in traditional crafts

Past shows: Martin Puryear at Parasol unit, London
18 Sept – 6 Dec 2017

It’s not often that I discover artists like Martin Puyear. I was truly interested on the body of work he presented at the Parasol Unit gallery in Shoreditch, London, end of last year, and really inspired by it. His abstract works are finely hand-made from wood and bronze and the use of craft methods and natural materials on the sculptures he creates shows a great respect to skilled craftsmanship. He proves that abstraction isn’t separate from traditional techniques and in fact it’s more relevant than ever. To me, this exhibition brought back the spirit of the Arts & Crafts Movement promoted by William Morris and Ruskin in the XIX century, with the joy of craftsmanship that it inspired and the natural beauty of materials.

Furthermore, with his works Puryear also explores social history and makes a very subtle political statement. In addition to the sculptures, the printmaking works presented on this gallery on the first floor offered a different perspective of the wood and bronze sculptures.

This exhibition was curated by Ziba Ardalan and was the artist’s first solo show in London. It presented over 30 works of sculpture and works in paper and spans 40 years of the artist’s practice. In the ground floor gallery there were large-scale works, such as the “Big Phrygian”, 2010–2014. This five-foot tall cedarwood sculpture, painted bright red, resembles the distinctive shape of a Phrygian cap, which is a soft conical cap with the top pulled forward. People of ancient Eastern Europe and Anatolia wore such caps, which in the modern world have come to signify the pursuit of liberty.  This contrasted with the iron sculpture “Shackled”, 2014, which recalls the shackles worn by slaves when they were taken to America.

The African-American began exploring traditional craft methods in his youth, studied a BA in the States and went to spend two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Sierra Leona, where he learned local woodworking techniques. Following this time in Africa, he spend two more years (1966-68) studying at the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts in Stockholm before returning to the US to attend Yale University in 1971, where he received an MFA in Sculpture. His work is widely exhibited and collected both in the United States and internationally.

“I value the referential quality of art, the fact that a work can allude to things or states of being without in any way representing them.” Martin Puryear.

For The art berries, performing with these works was like merging with nature. Almost like when an architect thinks about how to integrate his design within the surrounding landscape, but with a more humble approach of course! We hope you enjoy the photos! 

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A peek at the Californian mountains

Past shows: Ed Ruscha at the Gagosian gallery, London
“Extremes and In-betweens”
Oct 5 – Dec 17, 2016

This is an art show we visited more than a year ago and it’s not currently on. But I’ve decided to start my blog with it because it was very inspiring for me. It made me realised what I wanted to blog about and therefore, I owe it a first post here.

I first encountered Ed Ruscha’s work at Tate Modern and have been interested since. He’s called by many the Magritte of Los Angeles and one of the longest living pop artists. He produced all the works for this exhibition in 2016, and it was Gagosian’s first show of Ruscha’s paintings since an exhibition at its Rome gallery in 2014-15.

The novelty of this show is that the words appearing on the artworks were presented in logical sequences and in diminishing or augmenting typeface over a sand background in most of them; and with blue skies over the mountains of California in some other works, combined with a circled selected view that suggests we are having a peep in, but not part of this idyllic scenery.

As per the press release published by Farah Nayeri for The New York Times, Ruscha said about his works at the opening: “I’m not trying to wrap things up or make final statements or capture anything in a big way,” he said. “It’s more like, whatever the voyage is, that’s where I am. I’m just traveling along the tops of things, not trying to bring an answer to anything, necessarily, but just to keep making pictures.”

With the comments above, it appears to me that he doesn’t want to be categorical with these artworks, but exploratory with visual images as well as with words. A search done from a rather logical perspective.

The photo with raspberry adds a new layer to these artworks. She seems to be enjoying the solitude of these mountains and looking at us from within the scenery itself.