‘Liminal Identities in the Global South’ at the Joburg Contemporary Art Foundation (JCAF)

‘Liminal Identities in the Global South’ explores hybridity and resistance in the artistic practices of seminal women artists from Latin America, alongside artists from the MENA region, the African diaspora and South Africa. The exhibition considers heterogeneous forms of expression across art, architecture and music, from the 1960s to the present.

Given the impact of COVID-19, the pandemic body is a second curatorial thread running through the exhibition. The pandemic has placed many of us in a state of limbo or liminality, so that we are caught between a pre-COVID-19 world and one in which we imagine a better future.

The exhibition is divided into five areas: Prelude, Requiem, Movements I, II and III, each consisting of a particular colour based on the coronavirus alert levels. Moreover, each area is conceptualised according to a musical tempo, either moderate, fast or slow, denoting a time-based experience of the exhibition.

PRELUDE: ANDANTE (MODERATE)

Installation view of exhibition entrance and Prelude, including Lina Bo Bardi, Glass Easel (1968) and Oswald de Andrade, Manifesto Antropófago (1928), with Tarsila do Amaral, Abaporu (1928) in the background. Photographer: Graham De Lacy

The exhibition features an archive that takes as its starting point the concept of anthropophagia (cultural ‘cannibalism’ or assimilation). The anthropophagic movement became one of the central tenets of Brazilian modernism. De Andrade’s Manifesto Antropófago (1928) developed the idea of devouring and digesting foreign cultural values that had been transplanted into Brazil as a result of colonisation and reaffirming the internal cultural elements that colonisation had suppressed. In conjunction with the manifesto is a reproduction of the painting Abaporu by Tarsila do Amaral, which gives embodiment to the concept of anthropophagia. Also located within the archive section is another important figure in Brazilian modernism, the architect Lina Bo Bardi, who developed a distinctly Brazilian style of architecture derived from indigenous vernacular expression and aesthetic forms prevalent in the north-east of Brazil. The concept of anthropophagia resonates with contemporary South African society, which is engaged in asserting itself against European postcolonial cultural domination through various decolonising movements.

REQUIEM: LACRIMOSO (TEARFULLY)

Installation view of Requiem, from left: Paulus Fürst, Doctor Schnabel von Rom, Kleidung wider den Tod zu Rom (1656); Artist unrecorded, Lonely Soul Ex-Voto (19th century). Photo Graham De LacyInstallation view of Requiem, from left: Paulus Fürst, Doctor Schnabel von Rom, Kleidung wider den Tod zu Rom (1656); Artist unrecorded, Lonely Soul Ex-Voto (19th century). Photographer: Graham De Lacy

The pandemic body forms a second curatorial thread running through the exhibition. COVID-19 has placed many of us in a state of limbo, so that we are caught between a pre-COVID world and one in which we imagine a better future. Within this liminal state, the exhibition reflects on previous pandemics such as the Black Death (bubonic plague) (1346–53) and the Spanish Flu (1918–20). The COVID-19 pandemic can be understood as an ‘event’ – a rupture in the normal run of things. According to philosopher Slavoj Žižek, an event can refer to, “a devastating natural disaster or to the latest celebrity scandal, the triumph of the people or a brutal political change, an intense experience of a work of art or an intimate decision” (2014). As such, it changes our perception of the world around us.

MOVEMENT I: ALLEGRO (LIVELY)

LEFT TO RIGHT: Lygia Clark, Máscaras Sensoriais (Sensorial Masks) (1967, replicas 2021). © and courtesy Associação Cultural Lygia Clark. Photo Graham De Lacy. Lygia Clark, O Eu e o Tu (The I and the You) (1967, replicas 2021). © and courtesy Associação Cultural Lygia Clark. Photo Graham De LacyInstallation view of Movement I, from left: Lygia Clark, Máscaras Sensoriais (Sensorial Masks) (1967, replicas 2021). © and courtesy Associação Cultural Lygia Clark. Photographer: Graham De Lacy. Lygia Clark, O Eu e o Tu (The I and the You) (1967, replicas 2021). © and courtesy Associação Cultural Lygia Clark. Photographer: Graham De Lacy
Installation view of Movement I, from left: Jane Alexander, Harbinger in correctional uniform (2019), Lygia Pape, Divisor (Divider) (1968). Photo Graham De LacyInstallation view of Movement I, from left: Jane Alexander, Harbinger in correctional uniform (2006). Installation. Private collection. © Jane Alexander and DALRO. Lygia Pape, Divisor (Divider) (1968). Video of performance at Museu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro (2010). © Projeto Lygia Pape. Courtesy Projeto Lygia Pape and Hauser & Wirth. Photographer: Graham De Lacy

We live in a time of masks. They serve several purposes, from protecting people from COVID-19 to concealing the identities of protestors in the streets of Hong Kong or Paris. In the past, they have been associated with groups such as the Islamic extremist fighters of Daesh (ISIS), with police in riot gear all over the world, and the prisoners of Abu Ghraib. In early cinema, villains often wore masks. Today, the mask is ubiquitous, at once both ominous and comforting. It filters the air we breathe, providing a barrier to infection and possibly death. Breathing is a basic bodily function, yet it is through breathing that we can be infected with air-borne viruses like COVID-19.

MOVEMENT II: LENTO (SLOWLY)

Installation view of Movement II, from left: Kamala Ibrahim Ishag, The Dinner Table with embroidered Cloth (1974), Kapwani Kiwanga, Flowers for Africa: showing Nigeria (2014), Tunisia (2015) and Ivory Coast (2014). Photo Graham De LacyInstallation view of Movement II, from left: Kamala Ibrahim Ishag, The Dinner Table with embroidered Cloth (1974), Kapwani Kiwanga, Flowers for Africa: showing Nigeria (2014), Tunisia (2015) and Ivory Coast (2014). Photographer: Graham De Lacy
Installation view of Movement II, from left: Ana Mendieta, Untitled: Silueta Series, Mexico from Silueta Works in Mexico, 1973–1977 (1976/1991). Colour photographs, framed. © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC. Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co. Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS) and DALRO

Our lives are temporary. They pass away, leaving memories and traces. This section of the exhibition explores the precarious nature of life through images of the female body in the landscape, rituals performed by women, and bouquets of flowers that decay over time. The passage of time, which encompasses death, ritual and trace, points in turn to liminality. Flowers, often used in ceremonial events such as funerals, suggest a movement from one social or religious state to another. Several works suggest physical death, the leaving of an old state and entry into a new one.

MOVEMENT III: GRAZIOSO (GRACEFULLY) + CRESCENDO

Installation view of Movement III, showing Sumayya Vally/Counterspace, After Image (2021). Tinted mirror, steel. © and courtesy Sumayya Vally/Counterspace. Photographer: Graham De Lacy
Installation view of Movement III, from left: Berni Searle, Shimmer (2012–13). Installation (5 HD video projections and gold-leafed elephant bones). Southern: a Contemporary Collection. © Berni Searle. Photo Graham De Lacy

During afflictions and disasters such as the coronavirus pandemic, we discover our ‘radical vulnerability’ and the need for grace. As Achille Mbembe points out, “Such is for many, the terror triggered by confinement: having to finally answer for one’s own life; to one’s own name.” Mbembe’s statement suggests that there is someone to answer to, that there is an explicit self and an implicit other. As Ruud Welten explains, “The face is not a mediation of the other. Neither is it a ‘persona’, a ‘mask’, nor a ‘picture’: the face is what Levinas calls transcendence.” In this section, eternal time is represented by the colour gold and by luminescence and reflection. What is implied here is that human actions have eternal consequences and that the political and the poetic are inextricably connected.

The exhibition ‘Liminal Identities in the Global South’ will be on view at the Joburg Contemporary Art Foundation, Johannesburg, South Africa, from the 29th of June 2021 until the 29th of January 2022.

ARTIST BIOGRAPHIES

Jane Alexander (1959–) was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. She obtained a MAFA from the University of the Witwatersrand in 1988. Select exhibitions include: Venice Biennale (1995); ‘The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa 1945–1994’ (2001); ‘Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent’ (2004); Gwangju Biennale (2014).

Lina Bo Bardi (1914–92) was born in Rome, Italy. She obtained an architecture degree from the University of Rome in 1939 and shortly thereafter moved to Brazil, where she spent most of her life. Select exhibitions include: Venice Architecture Biennale (2009); ‘Lina Bo Bardi: Habitat’, MASP Museum, São Paulo (2019); ‘Lina Bo Bardi: Together’ organised by the British Council and the Lina Bo and P.M. Bardi Foundation, exhibited in London (2012), Chicago (2015) and São Paulo (2016); ‘Lina Bo Bardi Dibuja’ at Fundación Joan Miró, Barcelona (2019).

Lygia Clark (1920–88) was born in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil. She studied with Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, and then with Isaac Dobrinsky, Fernand Léger and Árpád Szenes in Paris from 1950 to 1952. Select exhibitions include: São Paulo Biennale (1959); Venice Biennale (1960); Documenta (1997); ‘Tropicália: a Revolution in Brazilian Culture’, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2005); ‘Lygia Clark: the Abandonment of Art 1948–1988’, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2014).

Kamala Ibrahim Ishag (1939–) was born in Omdurman, Sudan. She graduated from the College of Fine Arts Khartoum (1963) and the Royal College of Art, London (1966). Select exhibitions include: Whitechapel Art Gallery (1995); National Museum of Women in Art, Washington DC (1994);  ‘Women in Crystal Cubes’, Sharjah Art Foundation Art Spaces (2016).

Kapwani Kiwanga (1978–) was born in Hamilton, Canada. She studied anthropology and comparative religion at McGill University. She was the winner of the Marcel Duchamp Prize (2020) and the inaugural winner of the Frieze Artist Award (2018). She has been on group exhibitions at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, as well as the Whitechapel and Serpentine Sackler galleries in London, and held a solo exhibition at the MIT List Visual Arts Center (2019).

Ana Mendieta (1948–85) was born in Havana, Cuba. When she was twelve she and her sister were sent to live in the USA as refugees. She obtained an MFA from the University of Iowa in 1977. Select exhibitions include: ‘Ana Mendieta: A Retrospective, New Museum, New York (1987); ‘Ana Mendieta: Earth, Body, Sculpture and Performance 1972–1985’, Hirshhorn Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC (2004); ‘Ana Mendieta’, Art Institute of Chicago (2011); ‘Ana Mendieta: Covered in Time and History’, Jeu de Paume, Paris (2018).

Lygia Pape (1927–2004) was born in Nova Friburgo, Brazil. She received informal training in fine arts and studied with Faye Ostrower at the Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro. Select exhibitions include: Venice Biennale (2003); Haus der Kunst, Munich (2004); ‘Lygia Pape: Magnetized Space’, Serpentine Galleries, London (2011); ‘Lygia Pape: A Multitude of Forms’, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2017).

Berni Searle (1964–) was born in Cape Town, South Africa. She received her MFA from the University of Cape Town (1995). Select exhibitions include: ‘Approach’, Krannert Museum, Champaign, Illinois, Johannesburg Art Gallery and USF Contemporary Art Museum, Tampa, Florida (2006–7); Dak’Art (2012); Havana Biennale (2012); Venice Biennale (2001, 2005); Cairo Biennale (1998); Johannesburg Biennale (1997).

Sumayya Vally/Counterspace (2015–) is an interdisciplinary architectural studio led by Sumayya Vally. Through her design, research and pedagogical practice, Vally is committed to finding expression for hybrid identities and contested territories. Johannesburg serves as her laboratory for finding speculative histories, futures, archaeology and design languages, and for revealing the invisible. Her work is often forensic and draws on performance, the supernatural, the wayward and the overlooked as generative places of history and work. She is based between Johannesburg and London and is the lead designer for the Serpentine Pavilion.