Four contemporary African artists residing in the United States join forces for a critical discussion on history, fact and fiction.
“The Ease of Fiction” runs from 19 October 2016 to 19 February 2017 at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles. The multimedia exhibition includes painting, drawing and sculpture that test the notion of a single historical narrative and explores ideas around power, agency and memory, thus creating new hybrid truths.
Curated by Dexter Wimberly for the Contemporary Art Museum Raleigh, and organised by Mar Hollingsworth at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles, “The Ease of Fiction” brings together four US-based African artists, including ruby onyinyechi amanze, Duhirwe Rushemeza, Sherin Guirguis and Meleko Mokgosi, in an exploration of fiction presented as truth, more commonly known as parafiction. As stated in the wall text,
The artists’ cultural backgrounds, as well as geographic diversity, create an opportunity for a provocative examination of varied perspectives of reality. The works in The Ease of Fiction challenge and test the no on of a single historical truth in order to reveal how the “powerful” construct historical accounts in order to perpetuate their poli cal and economic dominance. The primary tool that these ar sts select for this task is the strategy of constructing parafictions—works in which fictions are presented as facts. To invent a fiction is, in essence, to invent a space in which it becomes possible to live amidst the confusion and complexi es of reality; a fiction allows us to remake the political and social systems that govern this imagined territory, holding out the revolu onary promise of changing both our selves and the web of social relations that make us significant.
Art Radar explores the work of the four artists in the exhibition.
Meleko Mokgosi’s (b. 1981, Botswana) work Democratic Intuition, Exordium (Famulus Africanis) inquires how one can approach democratic ideas in relation to the lived experiences of inhabitants of southern Africa. Mokgosi concerns himself with the ways in which democracy is considered to be inscribed within the individual consciousness due to institutional impact and the extent to which it is intuitive or self-taught through socialisation and what Mokgosi calls “intersubjective exchange”.
Meleko Mokgosi works within an interdisciplinary practice to create large-scale project-based installations. He works with conceptual frameworks such as history painting, cinematic tropes, psychoanalysis and post-colonial theory. He interrogates narrative tropes and the way in which these models are inscribed and history is transmitted in parallel to established European notions of representation, with a view towards investigating nationhood, anti-colonial sentiments and the perception of historicised events. Mokgosi has exhibited nationally and internationally at venues including the Botswana National Gallery, The Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art Museum, The Studio Museum in Harlem, the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Culture Center and the Lyon Museum of Contemporary Art.
Duhirwe Rushemeza’s (b. 1977, Rwanda) weathered surfaces remind us that the past remains continually relevant no matter how much of it may actually fade away. She is acutely aware of how she executes a process she calls “urban excavation” to collect materials for her installations. She carves used books and steel into map-like shapes that she rusts using sundry acidic solutions with salt, water, hydrogen peroxide, bleach and urine to create a painting medium that allows her to render marks and create on the surface. This process is reminiscent of the nomadic life that is continually moving forward into new territories, including traces of each past location in its ever-transforming reality.
Ruby onyinyechi amanze (b. 1982, Nigeria) is an artist whose practice revolves around drawing and works on paper. amanze’s work in this exhibition entitled Kindred is part of a larger series known as “aliens, hybrids and ghosts”, which as amanze states, “exists somewhere between constructed reality, fantasy, memory and imagination”. In her artist statement she further explains that
these creatures and their adventures reflect the layered experiences of people who live in-between worlds and whose fluid identity is not grounded in a singular geography or permanence-based, notion of home. In this space, creatures find authenticity, wholeness and freedom in their ability to simultaneously belong nowhere and everywhere. In this world, they play.
In this sense Kindred is the ultimate parafiction and the mirror image of the realities we construct in an attempt to negotiate the realities we currently live in, and desire to experience going forward.
Sherin Guirguis (b. 1974, Egypt) produces work that examines the tension between the contemporary and the historical. She contrasts Western minimal aesthetics with Middle Eastern ornamentation. Like her own experience having immigrated to the United States, Guirguis resides as much in the margins as it does in the balance between two identities, two countries and two realities. In a 2013 essay, writer James Scarborough speaks of Guirguis’ work thus:
It shows in her paintings. Created from ink, watercolour, acrylic, some dry pigment and various gold and silver leafing, they are lush and frenetic, with counterpoised eddies of surge and repose, powerful and, at same time, on the verge of tottering. Cinematically, they recall the too-big-to-imagine crowd scenes in The Birth of a Nation, Battleship potemkin and Ben-Hur. Their forms resemble continents whose malleable and shifting tectonic plates suggest upheaval, both geological and social. Their glowing centres suggest magma – a spontaneous life energy beneath the crust of the surface of pedestrian events and daily life – poised to erupt.
Negarra A. Kudumu
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