Dineo Seshee Bopape talks assemblages of materials, histories and feelings.
Art Radar talks to South African artist Dineo Seshee Bopape about her work and winning the Future Generation Art Prize 2017.
Dineo Seshee Bopape (b. 1981) has been regarded as one of the most exciting young artists to come out of the South African contemporary art scene in recent years. Her works have often combined psychedelic video montages interspersed among complex sculptural assemblages, usually consisting of found objects. Just a few weeks after the announcement in early March 2017 that Bopape is to be one of the four winners of the 2017 Sharjah Biennial Prize, the artist was also named the recipient of the 2017 Future Generation Art Prize.
The first global art prize for contemporary artists of up to 35 years of age, the Future Generation Art Prize awards USD100,000 — USD60,000 with an additional USD40,000 in support of the production of a new work. A solo exhibition of her work will go on view at Pinchuk Art Centre in Kyiv in 2018. Her work is currently on display at the Pinchuk Art Centre, Kiev with the 21 short-listed artists. Dineo Seshee Popape talks to Art Radar.
What does winning the Future Generation Art prize mean to you? How do you think it will it affect your practice in the coming months and years?
Winning the prize is wonderful. I am glad that the work affects people, actually delighted because that is one of the best things ever: connecting with other beings and people. The prize money is also wonderful. I am looking forward to enjoying it! As I have the chance to develop work again in Kiev, which is an interesting place. In the coming years, it means I can have a more stable studio situation with admin assistance. The world is my oyster and the stars are not the limit one could say…
Could you tell us a bit about the genesis of the work included in the exhibition at the Pinchuk Art Centre?
The work ‘began’ at different moments. Or rather, different parts had different starting points. The ceramic hand clumps I began in Boston in a piece called Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear (2014). At the time I was craving some time away from a computer and wanted to play and explore a new material that was not virtual but basic and through that, I was led elsewhere. I hadn’t worked with real clay since undergrad. I was also trying to make things that kind of looked like a Sangoma’s bones. I had combined them in the same space as chewed gum, hair and other objects. The hair and chewing gum were, in a similar way to the clay, traces of the body.
Later when working on the ceramic elements again for a solo project at HKS Museum in Norway, I began to see them as a way of marking self-presence and then later also as a way of displacing a/the void inside a clenched fist/closed hand. Remembering one’s self and one’s capacity, power, potentiality. In Marrakech I began working with soil ‘proper’. The work was inspired by a song about land reclamation and, being that I was on the African continent, I was really excited to hold/feel the actual soil of another part of the mass of the continent. ‘It’ was no longer abstract and other pieces developed from that movement.
Holes have been a constant fascination for me. And questions/ideas about presence/absences /occupation/displacement. These ideas circulate a lot in my older video work Also land, territory, history, amnesia, memory, memorials ….. scientific racism and looking at ways in which the bodies of indigenous women (and men) globally have been used in the practice of eugenics and other racist ‘movements’. I somehow wanted to find a way of healing that ‘memory’ by thinking through what self-sovereignty and land sovereignty might look like and ‘making a link’ between the relation between fertitlity and land, and spirit and land, fertility, the feminine energy/godess spirit/ Afro-diasporic spiritual aesthetics and practices. I have also been experiencing some changes in my body, so I was also interested in finding the genesis of it somehow through the work. It’s still in development.
You were awarded the prize “for [your] formally inventive and politically symbolic sculpture” (as stated by the jury). How would you summarise the main discursive, material and political context of intervention of your work?
The land of South Africa is still contested. The African indigenous majority is still largely landless in their/our own home (the postscript and footnote of settler colonialism and Apartheid and horrific sunset clause and white monopoly capital). About 70-80% of the land is still in white hands. There is some kind of shame people feel towards indigenous spiritual practices – a disconnection with one’s own power, memory and being or/and/with difficulty in/of shaping/articulating one’s voice/ will perhaps. Perhaps this is related to the collective history of trauma and socio-historical-political trauma interspersed with something else. Land remains home. It holds much power, spirit, energy, nurturing and healing. That’s what I can say. The rest, others and time and process I hope can unpack for me.
Your work explores and critiques colonial histories and violence almost always through lense of complex “personal” emotions but also broad issues such as ecology, representation and speech. Your work for the Palais Tokyo, for example, departed from the video Feelings by Nina Simone and brings together a range of depictions focused on the body engulfed by emotion as a result of personal but also historical and socio-political trauma. How do you characterize the balance between the personal and political, the private and public, the historical and the autobiographical in your work? Which works do you consider to have been most successful in expressing your understanding of how these “realms” overlap?
The personal is political is personal is political. How does one mark one’s trace/presence and movement in the world without constantly intersecting the personal/political/ecological and mythical? Through language, through body, geography/place/territory/ through fantasy. I guess for me all the works and their internal realms overlap in some ways. The starting point one could say is always ‘personal’. With the research around scientific racism, I was looking at my fear of going to the doctor and trying to unpack an uncomfortable encounter with a doctor in Germany and a translator. In understanding/making sense of the event, I’ve had to look at it within a socio-political-historical context. And the personal histories and encounters with the political.
The range of materials you use is extremely diverse for each project. It is almost impossible to summarise but I will give a few examples: your 2015 exhibition for the Hayward gallery in London included astroturf, dismantled speakers, a video installation, purple-coloured gels used in photographic studios and audio (playing a medley of birdsong and radio static) as well as a haphazard sculptural assemblage comprised of wooden stands, mannequin hands, garden wire and electrical paraphernalia including a spy camera; your recent project entitled Sedibeng, it comes with the rain (2016) consists of womb healing herbs, black feathers, metal, green potters’ foam, images of ripe fruit, animal hide, light and others; another recent work sa ____ ke lerole, (sa lerole ke ___) (2016) is more tightly focused on the use soil and rocks. Could you tell us a bit about your research process for your works? To what extent are you inventing new methodologies for working with each series of materials?
Some materials are particularly interesting for me during particular periods of time. It is sometimes an intuitive move towards something in an attempt to articulate particular ideas. At the Hayward Gallery for instance (and earlier) I had been trying to access the idea of land (and some of its histories) through astro turf and the images of gardens from the mid 90’s (from South African garden magazines). But that interest had begun elsewhere. An earlier work: grassgreen/sky blue (because you have stood on the highest court in the land insisting on your humanity). One is haunted often by seemingly random things/thoughts/memories and connections are made. I usually start from an intuitive interest- then I explore it further, I look at what is might be, what and how it might mean. And also look at the context whatever makes it be…etc.
You have said in relation to the Hayward exhibition that “The works in the show somehow refer to a rupture of sorts – a corruption akin to the process of dementia/Alzheimer’s … a corruption of relationality.” Could you talk a bit about this notion of “the corruption of relationality”? Which other of your works successfully probes this problem for you?
Is I am sky and Why do you call me when you know I can’t pick up the phone, the eclipse will not be visible to the naked eye, Microwave cosmic background, the problem of beauty….These videos in some ways think through corruption of rationality, the digital and language. A lot of the time through /via the relationships created between the moving image and sound and how they behave with each other. It is also a way of thinking through ‘madness’, over-saturation and or non-sense- corrupting logic. An entropy of sorts (sensual/virtual/political/mental entropy). There is a fantasy regarding mental instability- that it allows one some other kind of freedom- when you fail to follow the rules, when you refuse to play along/or don’t care to play along. Perhaps also somewhat akin to some strands of Afro-pessimism, anarchist philosophies etc. that advocate for an end to everything maybe.
Whose work are you particularly excited about at the moment?
I am always excited about Moshekwa Langa’s work, Deana Lawson’s photographs, Portia Zvaharera’s emotional paintings, Meschak Masamvu, Noria Mabasa, Donna Kukama, Tanya Linklater, NGO, Sinethemba Twalo’s sonic lectures, Lerato Shadi, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Simone Leigh and Black women for black lives matter, Jackson Hlungwane, Ciprian Shilakoe, alot of the artists who showed in the SaoPaulo biennale of 2016, Tabita Razaire, Anawana Haloba, Fatima Tuggar and Robert Rhee. It’s hard to say really- so many artists are making interesting things/works/proposals, I feel like I’m leaving other’s I am interested in out.
What communities have been important to you in developing your practice as an artist and researcher?
So many: my family, the arts scenes, the chorale music scene, urban and rural South Africa, the Caribbean, Afro-diasporic cultures, recently west Africa and the Congo, intellectual communities, feminist scenes, spiritualists, political activists scenes/communities. Communities that seem separate are always intersecting so that is a hard question to answer directly.
What are you currently working on?
I am continuing to do a love letter project- putting together a kind of an archive of a community choir from Polokwane, then also carrying on with research on the “When spirituality was a baby’ series… working on resting and taking care of my mind/body+spirit and also listening in to see where my curiosity is drawn…
- Malian artist Abdoulaye Konaté: “Symphonie En Couleur” at Blain|Southern, London – in pictures – September 2016 – “Symphonie En Coleur” presents the work of one of the most well-known West African artists working today, Abdoulaye Konaté
- ‘Vertigo Sea’: Ghanaian-British filmmaker John Akomfrah – interview – March 2016 – Art Radar speaks with John Akomfrah to learn about his practice
- 6 award-winning South African artists to follow – August 2015 – we chart the creative practices of Kemang Wa Lehulere, Nandipha Mntambo, Mikhael Subotzky, Mary Sibande and the brothers Hasan & Husain Essop
- Opera and politics: William Kentridge and the art of allegory – July 2015 – Art Radar profiles the veteran South African artist William Kentridge
- 5 films every arts practitioner should watch – Ellen Pau, Director of Videotage Hong Kong – August 2013 – Art Radar turned five in July 2013 and to celebrate we are bringing you a collection of top fives from artists and arts practitioners across Asia
Subscribe to Art Radar for more on African contemporary art