Writing Art History Since 2002

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Gallery Momo & The Factory, Johannesburg

Entering Johannesburg’s Gallery Momo one in seduced by exquisite photographic images of a cloud-filled sky seen through the window of an aeroplane. Slightly ominous, yet deeply moving, the triptych immediately draws the viewer into its dark, fluffy façade. Yet underneath the obvious beauty there is a sense of complete remove from the world below – isolation and beauty walking hand in hand. This isolation is magnified by a fourth image: that of a drag queen seemingly tying his shoes pre-/post-performance. The apparent disconnect between these images draws the viewer into the (potentially) upsetting imagery to follow, while making manifest the shows central theme. Isolation is a strong feature of Maart’s work, which is both aesthetically moving and emotionally disconcerting.His superbly executed aerial landscapes (shot mainly in Botswana) serve as the introduction to Crossword. Aside from recording isolation, the photographic work also serves as a visual representation of queer identities within a heterosexual orthodoxy. Maart makes use of the concept of islands inter-connected with other places via roads, rivers or pathways as a conceptual thread, one that runs through, and connects the different aspects of this exhibition.The central piece at Momo is a huge wall installation from which the show derives its title. Crossword is composed of a range of images from different contexts, from dreamy depictions of a weekend away with an ex-boyfriend, chain-smoking, boozed-up escapades to hauntingly simple portraits of windsocks and smiling friends. Slightly reminiscent of Wolfgang Tillmans, both in presentation and execution, the seemingly mundane and everyday is brought into a different context and thus given a fresh meaning.The issue of HIV/AIDS is presented in the form of the more graphic depictions of homosexual sex, but Maart steers clear of passing any judgement. The satellite exhibition (on display at Johannesburg’s only gay sex club, The Factory), titled Annotated Index, is essentially an installation of machine-print colour photographs displaying risky sexual behaviour made into a tapestry that hangs from the ceiling and overlooks patrons as they descend the stair-case towards the clubs debauched dungeons.Cold, anonymous promiscuity is not what Maart wishes to display, though. He speaks of the forming of a new “emotional community” being formed within this context of licentious sex. He quotes Jeffrey Weeks who, in his book The Delicate Webs of Subversion, writes about this formation. Maart’s images speak volumes about this: interspersed between his images of unprotected intercourse are shots of great sensitivity and trust between consenting adults.On the opening night of Crossword, one of the patrons – a gay man – expressed dissatisfaction at the narrow representation of gay sexuality. He felt that Maart had only chosen to document the brazen, promiscuous side of gay sex. While true, the strength of Maart’s work is two-fold. He has unapologetically delivered the darker underbelly of queer culture to the mainstream, in effect provoking a dialogue around the silences suffocating gay sex. As a consequence, he is able to show a community where trust, care and acceptance are not just hallmark clichés – but a necessary currency.

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