When the charismatic Swiss-Cameroonian curator Koyo Kouoh took over the helm of Cape City’s Zeitz Museum of Up to date Artwork Africa ( Zeitz MOCAA) in Could 2019, she made it her main mission to deal with particular person artists. ‘So many concepts and positions [about Africa] have been lumped into group exhibits, and never sufficient work has been finished on particular person voices,’ stated Kouoh on the time – and promptly directed her energies to overseeing well-received museum solos for Otobong Nkanga, Johannes Phokela and Tracey Rose. ‘That doesn’t imply we received’t do group exhibits,’ she pre-emptively added.
Honouring that promise and aiming for the moon, Zeitz MOCAA’s newest exhibition below Kouoh’s stewardship is a maximalist affair with a pulsing pop coronary heart. ‘When We See Us: A Century of Black Figuration in Portray’ options greater than 200 work by 156 artists from Africa and its world diaspora. Collectively curated by Kouoh and assistant curator Tandazani Dhlakama, the line-up features a who’s who of necessary earlier Twentieth-century painters, amongst them Wifredo Lam and Horace Pippin. The exhibition additionally leans closely into the current, displaying current works by rising stars like Roméo Mivekannin and Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi alongside arresting items by market darlings Amoako Boafo and Amy Sherald. Gucci is the presenting sponsor.
Some curmudgeonly early viewers have taken challenge with the exhibition’s straightforward embrace of the market. Talking in March, 9 months forward of the gala occasion inaugurating ‘When We See Us’, Kouoh defined that the undertaking was very a lot impressed by the ‘renewed prominence of Black figuration’ at market and in museums. ‘We welcome this improvement for a lot of causes, not least as a result of, regardless of cyclical bulletins of the loss of life of portray, portray however stays a central and indestructible medium of expression utilized by so many artists in our curatorial purview – Africa and its huge diaspora.’
Medium apart, pronouns matter to a fuller appreciation of ‘When We See Us’. The exhibition’s title is a play on director Ava DuVernay’s 2019 Netflix miniseries When They See Us, against the law drama exploring racial antagonisms in America. ‘We needed to flip issues round and alter perspective,’ defined Kouoh. By substituting ‘they’ with ‘we’, the exhibition locations Black self-representation entrance and centre. ‘In all my work and endeavours, my drive is to create a language and an area for us to talk to ourselves, significantly as a result of our humanity, our practices, our achievements, our histories have been so outlined by others, by proxy.’
Shunning chronology or regionalism in favour of a thematic show, ‘When We See Us’ unfolds throughout six sections dedicated to, in sequence, the on a regular basis, pleasure and revelry, repose, sensuality, spirituality, and triumph and emancipation. The exhibition design – courtesy of Cape City follow Wolff Architects – encompasses trim seating harking back to Richard Neutra, uncooked pine parts, curtains, and freestanding partitions that allow overlapping viewing. Musician Neo Muyanga has moreover curated room-appropriate playlists, utilizing music by Miriam Makeba, Ebo Taylor, Youssou N’Dour, NWA and others so as to add verve (or distraction) to the human encounter demanded by this exhibition.
A short wall textual content introduces every part. The content material is partisan and advised from the attitude of an enthused participant, not a dispassionate observer. ‘There may be magnificence in our day by day lives,’ reads a textual content adjoining to the exhibition’s opening two works. South African George Pemba’s oil portray The Gardener (1991), depicting a person tending a suburban backyard, is paired with an untitled gouache from 1940 by American Romare Bearden that exhibits a girl with calloused knuckles bearing a harvest of tobacco leaves. The mixture is revealing, past the deal with labour and the sublimated histories they gesture to. Among the many 28 nationalities represented, Individuals dominate, with 35 artists, adopted by South Africa, with 16 artists. Artists from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya and Nigeria are the subsequent most represented nationalities.
However ‘When We See Us’ is just not an exhibition about nationalities, which had been already difficult by 1947 when South African Gerard Sekoto settled in Paris, 5 years forward of American Beauford Delaney. Each artists died in penury in exile. Each have humdingers on present: Sekoto’s Night on the Nook (1943) exhibits a gathering of 5 figures noticed in low mild, whereas Delaney’s untitled 1970 portrait of a person in striped two-piece pulses with mild and color. It hangs near Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s 11pm Friday (2010), a outstanding research of poise and presence, and the present’s midpoint. The Delaney is a becoming place to pause and draw one’s breath in preparedness for the thrilling surprises nonetheless to come back.
‘When We See Us’, supported by Gucci, runs till 3 September 2023 at Zeitz MOCAA, zeitzmocaa.museum (opens in new tab)