my whole body changed into something else

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my whole body changed into something else

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… to a certain degree, my whole body changed into something else is a survey of memory and what it means to relate to ideas, sensations and experiences within a linear span of time. Such a span establishes a then and a now, a period through which things ‘change’ form from one to an other.

As a result, this collection of ideas and objects is about our perception of this timeline and how we make sense of it.

The curiosity around this show started in 2016, and at the time was mostly centred on money –what this was, what it did, and who we were because of it. It was only much later, during lockdown’s forced contemplation, that a realisation came that life embodied more of the earth than money. Then the question of how we embodied life presented itself and instigated more questions on how to speak of this experience. The state of boredom, described as disinterest in one’s surroundings, became of use for tapping out, building and imagining new norms.

my whole body changed into something else is an inquiry into possibilities and probabilities categorised by change and uncertainty.

Thinking of All the World’s Futures, Okwui Enwezor noted, ‘An exhibition is something that happens in the world, and carries with it noise, pollution, dust and decay. Like the growing mass of debris, it is part of the messy world it inhabits. An exhibition as a space of public discourse, as a stage of anticipatory practices, and a statement of intent, can no more assert a distance from its cultural


context than it can repress the very social conditions that bring it into dialogue with its diverse publics.’

It is with this notion in view that my whole body changed into something else sets out to be an offering of propositions rather than an exhibition. The term ‘exhibition’ suggests there is something finished to display, that the audience is invited to witness something resolved. This is not that. This is a tool for emphatic questioning.

Why so much elaborate questioning? Is all this dogged probing an evasion of the responsibilities of utterance? Is this ornate curiosity a method of stalling the inevitable debunking of any proposition?

To all of those, perhaps. Though perhaps more pressingly, my whole body changed into something else is part of a world in which the future has become a thing of the past. Anticipatory practices and statements of intent have given way to cloaked speculation. Apprehension and resolve seem fantastical. Despite the projections of actuarial scientists, communicative octopi and bone-throwing mystics, global events take place with all the predictability of spontaneous combustion, suggesting a near-pastoral idealism is required to believe that things can be successfully foreseen. Across arenas of public discourse –reverberating with private doubts – there is room for little that is as honest as the question. Ignorance has asserted itself as a constant, and subsequently the admission of unknowing and the willingness to be taught and to reconsider is perhaps the closest we can get to stability.

But what if it is an evasion? Perhaps, when we titled the exhibition my whole body changed into something else, we were evading static representations of ideas while alluding to the practice of continuity. We thought of things being outside our individual and intellectual bodies, and suspected that life, surely, existed beyond human, earthly and chemical bodies. Could the imagination be a portal to other worlds? Is spirituality, not religion, a more known experience of this other world? Where do humans come from and where are they going? Is there a source from which any particular species is born? Or are we some wild mushroom species that sprouts, unprovoked, through the debris of the Big Bang? Where does the assumption of originality come from? Where do the artworks begin and end? And how do we engage conflict from a place of peace? What is this common perception that looking and seeing something comes from a position of power and not an evasion of or inability to see oneself?

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That would explain how artworks here are a rudder. In their simplest form, these works present ideas in two and three dimensions. Mediated by media, notions are dressed in colour and become things that can be touched, smelled, measured, weighed. Imaginings and beliefs are given form and made manifest. Dreams develop nooks and crannies and take up space in the physical world.

Some works wonder, argue or otherwise make statements that, in the negative space of their assertions, leave room for re-engagement with what we think we know to be true. New questions open old wounds. Placing asks on old tensions vivifies the ways in which we collaboratively constitute the present.

One of the earliest works made in response to the concept was Going home by Frida Orupabo. The artist was already familiar with the works and thoughts of Sun Ra, having titled her first exhibition with the gallery after his 1986 album, Hours After. Her contribution feasts on dualities. There is a modulated defiance of legibility in the two figures depicted. They soar and leap but are unexpectedly immobile at the level of interface – their faces. The billows and flourishes that Orupabo has made of their garments and gestures throw into relief the characters’ eyes frozen in outward consternation. Or is it rather inward? Are they together? Are they apart? Is there a difference?

Is their amalgam of stillness and movement an attempt to grapple with the rhythm of a world built around a progressive march while marked by perpetual intermission? Is the ambiguous construction of their expressions a prompt to think through the unexpected immobilities of the now? Depicting black women specifically, is this work pointing to a world enamoured of black people and women, that can consume their strivings and the flair of their activity, but will not stop the harm it inflicts or hear of reparations for the harm it has benefited from? Or does the work offer a different line of questioning altogether? Is it suggesting that play is a serious matter to be approached with solemnity? Is frivolity needful of gravitas? Or perhaps Orupabo has provided an image that suggests there is no mutual exclusivity between exhilaration and suffering, that both are required for a full picture? Are we being cautioned, celebrated or cauterised?

To all of these, perhaps. Within my whole body changed into something else, bodies that have the capacity to change include the intangible; memory, processes, ideas and ideologies, nature, geography itself, time and the idiosyncrasies of heredity are as much of a corpus as human physicality. They are riddled with probabilities and possibilities; they are fed, die and make transitions; they have their own iterations of vascular systems and vulnerabilities. They keep secrets and offer insights.


A step further. In 2015 Pieter Hugo released a series of photographs of city dwellers, taken between Los Angeles and San Francisco, titled Californian Wildflowers. The jarring response to the works has been an inquiry of its own that raised more questions than answers. Some visitors were completely grossed out by the cavities in the teeth, the dirt on the hands, the scars, and perhaps more so at the clear representation of one’s vulnerability on substances. There are many things that are incongruous about the encounter and interaction between the photographer and the person being photographed. But what is most striking for me is the idea of reason and madness itself – reason defined as the capacity of consciously applying logic to seek truth or draw conclusions, and madness defined as a severely disordered state of mind. Reason, to me, is not a consciousness of one’s surroundings but rather a totem of one’s ability to follow rules, to do as one is told and behave as one is expected. But much of life is very messy, dirty and sometimes even rotten – so where does the fascination with sanitisation come from? For whom is the ordered city created?

The Wildflowers are not unordered, they grow where they are least wanted, fester where they are endangered and sprout like fungus. Homelessness’s proximity to the city is a symptom of the disjointed economic structures it finds itself in, or perhaps more, a symptom of the sheltering or cocooning of capital. In the city, everything is relational – the poor work for the rich, the less valuable protect the most valued, and the disadvantaged become the barometer through which to justify the privilege. There is power in being a Wildflower because one’s life is not capitalised –there is no tax number, utility bill, or a credit record that endorses one’s inability to be selfsufficient. But this is not a romantic state of being, of the luxury of freedom, but of survival too. The trick then is how one finds a balance between being independent from one’s political state but still able to participate as one wishes. Is this the dream? I don’t know, because statecraft refutes one’s ability to be that independent, that mad, that unpredictable and that free. But what is the state without its ability to confine and dictate?

Perhaps stability is not what we should aim for. Maybe the aim is to understand things in their motive, unpredictable, everchanging and sometimes nauseating selves. Freedom should be free from expectations of the human mind.

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Proposition I: Wreckage and salvage

By all appearances, it is from an appreciation of this idea of possible freedoms that the selected artists look at the wreckage of history as both constituting the scrapyard of the present and crucial to the menageries of the future. Throughout there is an embrace of the loopholes within our concept of infinitude. Some artists place the excesses of the past under a microscope while others look at the hybridities of the present as a gateway to a productive dismemberment. For others, the present is the locus of a spectacular unreality which they vivify through their images, while others still respond to all this with the use of mystery and refusal, suggesting an optimistically unknown future.

There is a widespread assumption that change is good, that humans and life forms are adaptable so long as there is a kind of familiarity in the biology of the new environment. In Kamyar Bineshtarigh’s practice, language is this familiarity. But familiarity also speaks to change, transition or consciousness of new formations. An Exhaustive Catalogue of Texts Dealing with The Orient is a direct Arabic translation of an extract from Edward Said’s Orientalism. This text, which describes the colonial formations and perceptions of people of the ‘east’, is suspended, made transparent, fragile, and yet dangerous. To write is to give form to something, and to break is to disfigure that which has been broken. But how does one disfigure colonialism or, in this case, Orientalism? Why not break the glass and throw it all away instead of putting the pieces back together in some order? Perhaps, because things are created from breakage. Very little is formed from emptiness or that which has been already lost. And language is familiarity broken to tangible pieces – legible and not, seen and unseen, understood and misread, broken, yet still legible.

If we were to try, how would we speak of each other without a centre? Because to imply even the idea of ‘east’ is to ascribe a centre from which one is looking. Is this why the text is in shards? If we examined every single shard, would we be able to see where the text might have begun or ended? From where I am standing the ‘east’ is now north west; wherever you stand, the direction will change, and much like the shards our perspectives will point in various directions at once, and they will be suspended, transparent, fragile, and still dangerous. Dangerous because we will find a way to ascribe meaning and make into forms that which we see.

Neo Matloga’s practice is much like that of Bineshtarigh. Existing images are torn apart and glued together to make figurative bodies. Is this not how humans are made? You take an eye

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from your mother, a nose from your grandfather and your feet from your father. Have you noticed that most people’s feet look like their dad’s? Is this supposed to mean something? In Bare Gao Ntswaneli and Ismael Le Sewela, human forms are projections of our imagination. Am I even seeing Ismael and Sewela? Or are these vibrations of what Ismael and Sewela would feel like? What is a human being if we can disintegrate this much yet still recognise ourselves in paper, glue, ink and canvas? Is the painting a representation of us or are we moving images of a collective psyche and nervous systems?

This fated sense of recognition shows up too in the grainy footage of Monilola Olayemi Ilupeju’s Stampede of Champions. The tension in the film is magnetic, and mesmeric. To watch these students fleeing brings focus to why the part of the nervous system that detects danger is called sympathetic. Their fight, flight and laughter triggers an echoing spurt of adrenaline. In the mind’s narrative instinct there is a rush to finish this story with blood, a calculation informed by the knowledge of incidents in schools, churches, massage parlours, clubs, movie theatres, the street and other places marked by the American flag. This combination of screams has the unlikely radiance of a choir, but it sparks dread instead of uplift. In these many known notes there is the anticipation of pain, spotlighting with dazzling clarity the ways in which only the voice can be an instrument of fear. Two minutes and 52 seconds in, the velocity with which a young man throws a plate of chips, and the deliberate etiquette with which he folds himself back into his seat afterwards, suggests a gregarious capacity for disregard; there is a princely extravagance in his wastefulness, the decadence is near-ascetic. He enacts an entitlement that will stand no argument, he brandishes his cruelty as a force beyond resistance. The children chortle and bray as they run, the dagger in their mirth, and the mocking in their voices is somehow more pronounced by its tonal incompleteness.

In a turn more tender but on material less yielding, Simon Gush’s One by one all the shafts will be closed provides an assessment of the cost of living. His simple phrase illustrates the disparateness of the prices people pay to exist – by his offered calculation, some lives are simply lived while others are endured and levied; some are offered as currency to be spent by machinery and corporations allotted more rights and dignities.

Natasja Kensmil’s dark-hued, appropriately suffocating paintings point to how we may have arrived at this place. Much of her paintings express a danger and verge on the nightmarish. In Johanna Le Maire, Kensmil specifically confronts the history of Dutch imperialism by highlighting the ways

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in which the Netherland’s reigning influence and wealth were gained through human trafficking, plunder and exploitation, particularly from the southern part of Africa. At the centre of her practice is always a figure, Victorian-looking, depicted as a ghost or a character from a horror movie, and one wonders if both the literal and figurative darkness is intended to allude to the horror of colonialism. Are the emblems and the almost illegible Cape Colony trade maps a depiction of the concealment of history? Often I wonder why ghosts are depicted as white, ephemeral bodies that only come alive in the dark. This would be such a literal assumption, but is the spell that was colonialism a ghost that came alive through the infinity of blackness?

Kaylin Moonsamy’s installation of Bhuvaneswari Kali, Kali, The Black Liberator, and Matangi Kali detangles this history of colonial plunder and recognises the spiritual realm as an essential existence by which to reverse and undo the abandoned mines of colonialism. For Moonsamy, Kali, who is known as ‘The Black One’, personifies the past, present and future through her consciousness of time as infinity. She is called the Mother because it is through blackness, space and emptiness that life on Earth was born. The constellation of the three, Bhuvaneswari Kali, Kali, The Black Liberator, and Matangi Kali represents desire, knowledge and implementation in the tantric Trishul (three-headed spear) seen in Kali, The Black Liberator. The installation instructs us that spiritual practices are also forms of knowledge production – even in their lack of attachment to results, the desire to practice is an exercise of freedom.

Simphiwe Ndzube’s inscrutable portraits continue this discussion by evoking a temporality beyond even our concept of the here and now. His Elder, his Philosopher, with their eyes shining from within an unknown plane, repudiate our reliance on codes and symbols. His figures cannot be read aesthetically; clothing, mien and expression cannot be deciphered like the key to a map. Instead, he reminds us that, with zest and colour, there are questions that we do not yet know how to ask, and people, characters, images that resist our demand for answers.

Ruth Ige too, through Esteemed and Woman with the healing gift, lavishes us with expressive gestures and flamboyance to more securely prevent the viewer’s eyes from invading, colonising, taking too much ownership of the subject. Her figures live both in and as the currents of their painted undulations. Through Ige’s process of veiling, are we being asked if it is necessary that esteem and healing be shared in a world riddled by trauma, or is the recovery of the self enough? In our era of tracked ads and algorithmic dopamine-dependence, is esteem without externalised approval care-in-practice?

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Uncertainty is a useful framework here. There’s a lot of it when I look at Wura-Natasha Ogunji’s Faster. Firstly, I’m not sure if the figures are running towards something or away from it. I’m not even sure what the ‘it’ is but it’s certainly causing a maniacal reaction, whether good or bad. I think about the criminalisation and policing of black bodies in America, the continuing violence ensuing across the USA, Middle East, Nigeria, South Africa … But why does the mind go there? Because the expression on the figure’s face suggests a feeling of unpleasantness? Because it’s two black-malelike figures that are running? There, where the mind goes, is where history has always taken us. But now I’m stuck between reading the work as a political gesture and understanding it purely from a craft perspective. But, is there a point at which these two become parallel and not synonymous? But, are we talking about parallelity and synonymity between political gestures and craft, or history and black-male-likeness, or violence and states? There are so many ‘buts’... maybe because everything seems different but it actually is all the same. Too, I wonder if Faster is a command or a condition.

To understand Dada Khanyisa’s work one has to subvert the idea of right or wrong with ‘ands’ and ‘buts’ as the feeling of intimacy requires a complete disavowal of morality and identity. It was that night we ended up at Berea Court and Not particularly looking for someone, I just go on dates for new conversations reminisce on internal feelings, memories and reflections. They are personal yet conversational. The works here blur the bounds between the personal and the public. Khanyisa draws on familiarity and makes abstract what is otherwise figurative in real life. Then we ask again, what is figuration if everything can be broken down into abstract pieces? Unless figuration is recognisable abstraction? It is no secret that our experiences are mostly projections of our subconscious, so does this mean that our understanding or acceptance of someone else is based on our ability to familiarise the ‘other’ with our consciousness?

I wonder, yet again, how far we can push our discernment and experience of perception where movement and migration is concerned? Often our movement is related to a subject – we are either moving towards or away from something, so we never really move alone because there’s a subject in mind that we are rotating in space. Serge Alain Nitegeka’s Lost and Found I and Lost and Found VI are totems of hybridised objects. They have their own identities but reflect our personalities and histories, yet as objects they remain independent from our psychologies. But maybe not, because if I smashed a TV, burnt its remains and threw them into the sea, it would be gone and ‘I’ would’ve made it disappear. But are things ever really gone? Because the ashes would remain somewhere in the sea, the ground, or the trash can, but as long as it has materialised into something, nothing

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can ever take that away. Even the human’s ability to break, burn, mutilate or stab something will never take away the object’s existence on earth. All we can do is migrate it from the centre to the periphery or turn it into something else.

For Moshekwa Langa, sometimes this relocation is our only possible intervention in life. Mogalakwena (2018) is a newer interpretation of the same installation originally made in 2013. For this, Langa used everyday objects, most of which are toys, wool, books and vinyl records, to create a whimsical, map-like, imaginary island. The installation is named after a municipal town in Limpopo. The work introduced the exhibition in Cape Town. The poignant point about the installation is the obvious fantasy of creating a ‘world’, assuming a consciousness of one’s own surroundings and the world’s historical identities. Historical because all the objects belonged to people who now no longer own them. Mokgalakwena reminds us that the world moves on very quickly, that even our understanding of something alters its meaning and experience of it completely. While we build our personal islands, we create cultures of exclusion or solidarity, but history remains, not in us but in the world’s bodies, its landscapes and its anatomy. So what becomes of human consciousness and ownership when the planet doesn’t even stop to care?

Financial stability? Perhaps, but capital and power decapitate humanity’s ability to be human. Conflict in Afghanistan is now decades old and even while books have been written, films produced, art exhibited, the murder, plunder and dispossession continue to occur and not much changes. Later in this volume, Aziz Hazara affirms the importance of working with family or friends because life moves so fast that we can lose people at a blink of an eye. Is this what we mean when we speak of human nature? Are we even safe on this planet? If vileness is inherently biological to the human’s anatomy, will exhibitions and political theories save us from ourselves?

Jane Alexander’s infirmary offers a three-dimensional method for engaging these questions – the installation lets us probe just how much might is inherent and how much is assumed. Power, here, is a matter of form. Some creatures are compelling to the point of cuteness while others are grotesque in their mutations. Disarming armed figures are airborne while those standing, watching, waiting candidly project a sense of threat. Held together, Alexander’s figures become a coterie of symbols that make disempowerment a result of mis/recognition – the viewer elects contenders for empathy. The spectrum between confident accretion and collateral dispossession is taken further in the question posed by Wonderland and The Memory of Time by Erkan Özgen. As antonyms these films dialogue on how war and conflict are abstractions until their effects are visited on a people. The

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former centres Muhammad, a deaf-mute 13-year-old boy, and the latter stars anonymous tourists; weapons and violence are gestured at in one and a piece of artillery is shown in the other; nonverbal language is the soundtrack of one and the other functions on pregnant silence.

As Muhammad tells his story in a care-worn lounge while holiday-makers cradle the mouth of a weapon in a field of ruins, the tableaux ask us if survivors are kept in the shadows while the sun shines on those who live to deepen the myth of social cohesion. It questions whether individual cataclysm is given less room than collective pleasure in a society determined to forget. The crowds gathered in their familiar sneakers and self-conscious khakis form a query about the ways in which we are each other’s conspirators in excusing atrocity. This combined work asks if spectacle isn’t tragedy only at the moment when it’s marked by the loss of life but rather is continually remade so by the persistence of human mundanity in unconscionable conditions.

Proposition II: Children of the soil

The ‘Agricultural Hyperpolyglot’ is described as someone who, much like the hyperpolyglot we know, is able to occupy and experience different energetic forms of the earth. In Simnikiwe Buhlungu’s triptych There Are No, There Are No Complete Knowledges and The Case of the Agricultural Hyperpolyglot, knowledge is posed as an experience that one enacts by virtue of a belief. When it comes to the terrain, belief and experience are interchangeable because we experience what we already know and we give value not to what exists but to what is superior to us. Maybe we are incapable of experiencing the earth because how can we? The human body alone does not have enough senses to recognise or withstand even the climate. We have heaters and air conditioners for that! Why change the body into something else when we can change the world to suit us where we are? Maybe because machinery and technology have manuals and warranties of suggestive death dates but to be a life form is to be spiritual and transformational with multiple manuals written in all the world’s languages. Still, is that not what we’d call a malfunctioning robot?

The array and vastness of vantage points provided by Precious Okoyomon, Paulo Nazareth, Thandiwe Msebenzi, Belinda Blignaut and Rahima Gambo express the ways in which the earth is our most sophisticated technology. Okoyomon’s works simultaneously look like playthings and

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hallowed objects. The sheep’s wool, integrated with blood, carries a heft which could clothe a wolf, evoking the birth of idioms and the reality of witchcraft. Gambo’s Instruments of Air is a groundbound constellation, and as her sculptures sprout on their bed of soil while a kid leaves its mother’s body to enter the world, she unveils the world as an unravelling thing that generates itself with a private autonomy.

Nazareth offers a different view with Maze: he detonates corn to discuss the weaponisation of nature. Using two different species of the plant, spread over 49 sunflower oil buckets, he crafts a singing line of questioning. By drawing our attention to the fact that food has been crucial to historic genocides, is he asking us to look closely at the relationship between consumption and cultural imperialism today? Or is he asking us to think deeper still of the past, of the people that propagated a staple, stable crop for a variety of continents; if they could have recognised that the objects of their scorn and derision need sustenance and rest, was the trafficking and enslavement not from ignorance compounded by economics but surreptitiously indulged cruelty? What does it mean to have made the sun, the soil and wind participants to atrocity? In highlighting the relative obscurity of black corn and the dominance of white corn in the westernised world, is he making allusions to the creation of race and the politicisation of colour? At the time of writing, the black crop has been languishing and the white crop, proving more adaptable, flourishes; through Nazareth, has nature itself provided a lesson on the effect of forced transplantations on black life forms? Perhaps Nazareth’s offering is suggesting that the damage these crops were used to inflict on some societies meant that many more nations could be sustained into the future with sagtulga, nsima, pap, ugali, akamu? If the fittest is what survives, has nature itself made whiteness resolute and blackness resilient? Or are there things we miss entirely when our thinking uses binaries as a crutch for coherence?

In contrast, Msebenzi’s work shows nature as the custodian of a profound yet fertile indifference. As the maternal stories weave and interweave in Chapter 2, Pieces of Radical Makazi: Gogo & Makazi, the environment – built, cultivated, grown – watches human skirmishes and futile stratifications. The stillness of Blignaut’s The call of things changes the scope of questioning further, drawing attention to the actions of speech and hearing within nature’s place. Her silent monolith is made up of soil, clay, ash, wood and stone; it houses various microorganisms, small plants, creatures and determined spores. Having needed fire, water, wind and air to arrive at its inanimate form of life, it is a composite body in the way that human beings are composite bodies. It was conceived, and – through a collaboration of internal forces and external care that can ostensibly be named

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shelter and feeding – it grew as people grew. The soundpiece that completes this work is nonverbal, made up of ambient sounds, receding traffic, simple robotics, and the pulse of forests and insects. As an experience, the work calls; it trusts in the interpellating power of other forms of intelligence but leaves response up to the viewer. Through its existence we appear to be asked how many forms of living we’re able to overlook because of the expectation that life must fit into a human pattern. There are modes of autonomy embodied by Blignaut’s flowering creation, thus the work asks, if we do not recognise them, is it because she is immobile and without speech? And if so, does that mean our basic criteria of life is not growth, presence and existence on a timeline spanning conception and death, but really a matter of movement and language? Taken further, does this mean humanity’s presumptive apex position is based simply on legibility rather than achievement? That we could grow in ways that are astronomic and unexpected if we learnt to listen to other ways of speaking? That our current limitations and frustrations can be attributed to the ways in which we refuse to listen? The artist has said panpsychism, a philosophy in which both human and non-human have minds, is her guiding ethos.

A week into the opening of the exhibition, Feelings Radio Project or FRP, as the collective refers to itself, hosted a live broadcast at the gallery, where for a few hours the exhibition housed an underground party. Underground because it was by invitation only and party because there was lots of dancing. The influence of music in the show was at the forefront of its planning but music also had to be the opening and closing of the exhibition. Firstly because music relies mostly on impulse and one’s ability to feel without judgement. It is one of the dominant human practices that has travelled, not only through slavery but before, across the various continents, and mutated and transformed to reflect its surroundings. Its main characteristic, sound, unbound yet seduced by physicality, has been around for as long as life itself but has not disintegrated – how?

FRP’s offering was not an intervention or a performance but a walkabout of the ideas, emotions and philosophies presented through the works. The selection of works and invitation to artists was based on this intention – to create an emotional, critical and philosophical experience through visual art. Visual not because we are able to see but because we are able to recognise something, someone or some feeling. What many people, even those who have seen the exhibition, don’t know is that right at the end of all the laughter, joy, crying and emotional outpouring towards Feelings Radio Project and their collaborator Bonolo Nkoane, a fight broke

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out. Simply because of two vastly varying perspectives. It was a bodily enactment of an exhibition based on love, fear, anger, joy and violence. It was shocking to experience this tension, but looking back we ask how could we not have seen it coming when the show was an invitation to look at ourselves without judgement?

When this took place, emotions were already heightened. The source of this rupture was the gallery’s back entrance, a portal or, better yet, a vessel through which all the works and labour came and left. This entryway became a buffer, or a transmitter of energies, both good and not as good. It has become clear now that to speak of the body is to recognise even its ruptured parts, its bile, bacteria and cancers. And to create a space of freedom is to dismantle even the idea of good or bad and recognise everything that exists alongside these feelings. We do not condone violence, nor do we normalise fissures in spaces of deliverance, yet we recognise the existence of disruptions to peace.

If Leonard Pongo’s Uncanny – made up of scenes that seem to simultaneously take place in dancehalls and temples – is a monument to these portals and ruptures, if it is a document that chronicles the slippage between flesh and energy, then Steven Cohen’s DEFACE is a love letter to the finitude of self on a cellular level and the enduring bathos of the baroque constructions we place around it. Pongo’s monochromes propose that there is a place we’re from and a place we travel to before and after the calendar span of our lives, providing glimpses of it though neartantric states and energetic terrains sensed if not quite seen.

From what is closely seen, a life is sensed in Cohen’s film. He reverses the mechanics of a chrysalis to allude to truer rhythms of growth. He makes a ritual act of the slow progression towards increased vulnerability. Cohen discards his balletic armour and the accoutrements of who we fantasise him to be, in order to, instead, present us with who he is when he’s least prepared to be watched. As he removes makeup and adornment, the effects of time, genetics and sunlight emerge and make vivid what Ajamu X says later in this volume, that the body and flesh is our first archive. His is a prayer to living in a minor key. Ajamu X too, an artist who walks the world with a chosen name, prioritises the ways the body can be both resplendent and guttural. Its veins, sinew, adipose deposits, blemishes are lensed as life beyond the perception of deviance and morality. For him and through him, it’s enough for the somatic self to respirate, grow, love and fade.

Thami Kiti’s walking sticks, simultaneously votive, folkloric and practical, offer a conception of mythologies as bigger than narrative – here they are genetic. His union of phallus, reptile and

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ruminant on a single plane of wood, activated by the hand of a living being, highlights a shared lineage across time. The stories totemised by his staffs live through the gait of the people supported; cultural inheritance is carved so that it may be incorporated into movement and stillness; the concept of faith is remade as a simple verb. Through Kiti, a bird in the hand is a remnant of ancestral memory.

Proposition III: Bigger than Belief

Just as the featured artists can articulate the ways in which we participate in the incongruities and paradoxes of modernity, just as they can reflect on how institutionalised absurdity is expressed in human action and social arrangements, it is with the same level of keenness that they reflect on how we transcend this altogether.

Meleko Mokgosi’s paintings function on a belief in revision. As addendums especially, they believe in the power of redress within the artistic, cultural, historical and academic establishments, that systems of knowledge generation are able to mutate past their mistakes and misconceptions. His eloquent rage, his researched interjections, rebuttals and clarifications, speaking back to the legacies of dead influential men, exist as radical gestures of belonging in a premise of exclusion. Through these works he celebrates not just outliving but outthinking his symbolic detractors.

In Penny Siopis’s room of works we see the possibility of creating a chamber without allowing it to be dominated by the vacuity of an echo. The input is minimal, the ingredients are few. Glue, ink, oil, canvas, celluloid, time, gravity and Grecian sounds result in something primal and primordial. In Transfiguration, our protagonist is mythic and ancient while her bloodied chest appears prophetic in this moment of catastrophe. The creature that spiders across Celluloid Body –its form occasionally reminiscent of the patterns and striations on rock art – swallows forests in the way of the wildfires in California, defaces families, makes ardent pursuit of holiday-makers, and through it we see the defiance of infinite potential from limited input, a visible metaphor for the boundless scope of the imagination.

The soft tumble taken by the protagonist of Farah Al Qasimi’s Self Portrait in Red too carries the connotations of a prayer. Here, and In After Dinner 2, the contents and contours of the body are veiled; there is no discernible, reliable face but in its very veiling she conveys a dynamism of

20 The Dialogue

subjectivity. The subjects dissolve into the image as if into something Higher, Bigger that more essentially Is. In their lack of resistance, in the way they all appear to be, is Al Qasimi suggesting devotion is the submission into dissolving?

For both Ernest Mancoba and Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi, unresisting dissolve and wilful hybridity are taken up with the conviction of a manifesto. Mancoba’s monochromatic lines, his feathery striations, are tasked with the visual performance of the transcendence of an arbitrary corpus, as well as the rules and structures placed upon it. The fleshed, material body is an abstraction-in-waiting. On the other hand, the terrain painted by Sebidi collapses the difference between fire and water, ground and sky, past and future. Her figures reverberate with life beyond linear, accepted biology; the splicing of forms is a luminous conjugation. As creative pioneers, lifetimes apart, their parallels suggest a spiritual nationality keener than is possible in geographic affinity. These works converge to disclose what is seen beyond the vision of eyes, suggesting alternatives to the violent tedium of weaponised difference. How much bigger would our gestures be if holding was not moored to the possession of limbs? Would our tread through the world be lighter, gentler, if we saw in ourselves a timelessness, the properties of air?

I find it strange to speak on Ben Enwonwu’s work, mostly because up until I saw the painting in the flesh I didn’t have much context on his practice. I still don’t and am not interested in reading more. There is something about Dancing Girls Yoruba that refuses context. In its pronounced lines, patterns and dark hues, it whispers, shhhhh, and all of a sudden context becomes nullified by the experience of seeing meaning hit a flat, solid surface. The little information I have read indicates that the painting series, which became his lifelong dedication, came from a desire to articulate more accurately the dancing and arts culture in Nigeria and more broadly in West Africa. The work came from an absolute joy in witnessing people around him being themselves through art. This is the feeling that overwhelms me – seeing life through colour and art – and sometimes this is enough to ask of it.

Portia Zvavahera’s Ndibuditsei Ipapo translates as ‘take me out of there’. Out of where, Portia? Where is it that I, we, them, need to take you (who?), out of? Is it the physical body, the social body, one’s own subconscious? How would I intervene in your spiritual realms given my own shortfalls in understanding myself, my history, fears and desires? You say you paint from your dreams; you don’t paint what you see but transfer your emotional interpretations of the dreams, because dreams are dark, they are deeper than one’s skin, they are out of space, sometimes

Sisipho Ngodwana & Sinazo Chiya

dense but most times completely transparent. For those who think that darkness hides things, it doesn’t hide anything because living is not only about seeing, it’s about feeling, about unseeing things and living within space.

Is this what Martin Luther King Jr meant with his, ‘I Have a Dream’ speech? Is the evoking of intentional unknowing a conjuring of magic? What happens when one of the most celebrated political leaders, at a time of severe racism and segregation towards Black people in the world, alludes to a dream rather than a physical weapon? Why was Christianity and religious dogma such a foundational part of coloniality? Where were the gods, deities, magicians, soothsayers, prophets and healers when the spell was cast against humanity on such an enduring scale? Portia, is the dream the source or the destination?

Again, perhaps ...

Proposition IV: Conclusion

As a functional tabula rasa, my whole body changed into something else asks how can something be mine? How is a fragment distinct from a whole? What is a body? What constitutes change? Under what circumstances does a phenomenon or object become something and what identifies it from whatever else it may be? In these questions is the key to more questions still. For now, perhaps, the feeling of vitality is in the ability to ask, and with that to think of possible answers, while having the freedom of committing to none.

In all likelihood there are probably fewer meaningful answers than there are questions, but with adequate questioning things become clearer until more layers of the puzzle are revealed. There is a book called Murambi: The Book of Bones by Boubacar Boris Diop that recounts the Rwandan massacre through the lens of a writer who has returned to the country post the catastrophe, after a few years hiatus, and intends on writing a play about it. The novel is written from different perspectives and, as its introduction states, ‘we [the readers] are overhears’ because the different stories are written without judgement and as if the characters were right in the midst of it all. The more astounding part of the book is how we realise that, up until we pass on, we witness the

22 The Dialogue

joys and terrors that we birth and foist onto each other. The importance of memory is a chance to do better. We are all bystanders of war and evidently so – it is affecting us. But forgetting is also a choice because to be conscious of trauma is to witness the body’s score and if you are not affected by it then you are the perpetrator of it.

The works in the show were manifested and through them we saw the universe and beyond. What then was the purpose of the group exhibition, especially when art could be seen from the sidewalk, in artists’ catalogues and on our personal screens? Is the group exhibition another form of art? I like to think of it as a witness to the witness. Much like Diop’s novel on a fictional character who struggles, even problematically so, to narrate and make sense of his surroundings, my whole body changed into something else is Murambi: The Book of Bones because our task as curator is to ‘overhear’ the conversations; to make sense of things without judging; to collate, to care and to investigate. To say that we see ourselves looking: at who we are, what we have done and what we intend on doing. my whole body changed into something else is a collective consciousness of an ever-evolving self.

Sisipho Ngodwana & Sinazo Chiya

the works

Mogalakwena, 2013/19 Mixed media

Untitled, 2004

Mixed media on paper


Untitled, 2004 Mixed media on paper


Untitled, 2004 Mixed media on paper


Untitled (Abubakr Effendi Kitab al-Zakat page 2), 2021 Ink, bleach and cold glue


Untitled (Abubakr Effendi Kitab al-Zakat page 1), 2021 Ink, bleach and cold glue

An Exhaustive Catalogue of Texts Dealing with the Orient, 2019 Ink on glass 34

Untitled, 2011

Archival ink on Baryta paper


Untitled, 2011

Archival ink on Baryta paper


Untitled, 2011–16

Archival ink on Baryta paper
C-print PIETER HUGO 43
Untitled, Los Angeles, 2015

Untitled, San Francisco, 2014


Untitled, San Francisco, 2014 C-prints

Ndibuditsei Ipapo (Take me out of there), 2021 Oil-based printing ink and oil bar on canvas
PORTIA ZVAVAHERA Johanna Le Maire, 2021
Oil on canvas

Lost and Found VI and I, 2021 Cardboard, canvas and wood

Deface, 2021 Single-channel digital video

Going home, 2021

Collage with paper pins


Sitting Woman (Unknown Year), 2021 Acrylic on canvas

IGE 58

The woman with the healing gift, 2021 Acrylic on canvas

‘Not particularly looking for someone, I just go on dates for new conversations’, 2021 Mixed media

Mixed media

‘It was that night we ended up at Berea Court’, 2021
Seyon Amosu, 2020 Silver gelatin print
Christopher and Malcolm, 1992 Silver gelatin print

Heels, 1993

Silver gelatin print

Couple, 2015

Silver gelatin print

Bare gao ntswaneli, 2021
Collage, charcoal, liquid charcoal, ink, soft pastel and acrylic on canvas Ismael le Sewela, 2021
Collage, charcoal, liquid charcoal, ink, soft pastel and acrylic on canvas

Untitled, undated Indian ink on paper


Objects of Desire, Addendum 9, 2019

Inkjet and permanent marker on linen, oil and photo transfer on canvas


On the 7th day I saw a herd of cattle being led by invisible herdsmen, 2021 Mixed media


The trees, termites and birds are the same spirit, 2021 Mixed media


Instruments of Air, 2020

Single-channel digital video



SC: As a starting point let’s look at the interdisciplinary nature of your approaches. Why do each of you choose to cast such a wide net when it comes to media?

RG: I came to artistic practice as a multimedia journalist. I was looking for modes of expression, searching for a language that was authentic to my body, context and history, critical of the tools that journalism gave me. I wanted to focus on what I was experiencing in my body in an attempt to ‘tell stories’ about the subjects I was interested in, and how that was shifting my practice.

MI: I know you work with photography, Rahima, and in the video piece you’re exhibiting there is sculpture. Are those the mediums that you tend to engage with?

RG: I’m always in dialogue with photography and visual storytelling modes. Even when I’m working with sculptures, I’m always thinking about a story arc over time, and considering how to animate them. The timeline doesn’t have to be a straight linear line, it can be many lines, many shapes. For me, the material is secondary to the concept, but of course the material has to connect to the project. It’s the longterm engagement with an idea or subject that pushes me towards the use of certain materials, which feel necessary. What about you?

MI: I went to an arts-focused high school in Miami, and my teacher came from a strict, conservative Cuban background. She was obsessed with the traditions of European and realistic painting, to the point where any other art forms were labelled ‘elementary’. It wasn’t


until I went to NYU that I was exposed to conceptual art, installation, performance and video. It was the first time that I experienced strong reactions to artistic interventions, moving images, and forms that I wasn’t accustomed to; it was almost like my body reached that space of recognition before my mind. In these discoveries, I found that there are ways to put disparate objects together, in different combinations, that could communicate things that were ambiguous, difficult or confusing, yet still be powerfully clear. When I moved to Berlin after graduating, I found myself doing a lot more performance because, to perform, you don’t need money or even an audience, you just need yourself, your body. Now, having more space and resources has allowed me to explore installation. I’ve just moved into a new studio in Berlin and the impulse is to paint and lock myself into that meditative, private space for a bit. But I also know there are projects and works for which I’ll probably want to step out of the studio and engage with people and audiences. The practice is an intimate relationship – you grow with it.

AH: I was trained in miniature painting and calligraphy, traditional art forms in Central and South Asia. In art school, I had the possibility of exploring different mediums, and was exposed to photography, video and performance. It was only after art school that I participated in community engagement. I think to make work that can almost convey the five senses of where you are, you need something beyond whatever medium you’re working with. When you’re engaging in conflict zones, the emotional baggage is high. To try

to translate that into mediums is time-consuming, but quite interesting.

SN: Monilola, the work we selected for the show uses found footage of young people; Rahima, before you started the Walk series, you were photographing young schoolgirls in Nigeria; and Aziz, you’re working with children who grow up in conflict zones. I wondered how you negotiate representing people who may not have the means or leverage to tell their own stories?

AH: For me, it’s important to engage with the community. Where I’m from we have these giant families where 30 to 40 cousins live in the same neighbourhood. In 2018, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) sent a suicide bomber to blow himself up in a tuition centre where young children were studying, and that was an extraordinary shock to the community. From then onwards I started engaging with my cousins and neighbours actively – I wanted to have a record of them because so many of them will probably be gone soon. Recently, they bombed the school that the Bow Echo boys attend. They quite literally slaughtered more than 100 children. It’s so heavy. That’s partly why most of the children I work with are cousins and family members –we hang out and then ideas pop up. I try not to dictate to them; instead I’ve collaborated with them, with most of the ideas coming from them, such as the games or the objects they’re playing with.

RG: This is an enduring question for me. I’m working with real people in real time and real spaces; some have

74 A conversation about image-making

experienced trauma. I have to process the fact that there is this power imbalance present, and this has always been emotionally difficult. I am in the process of creating a model that I feel is ethical, that is less about me being an extractive artist and more about giving something. As a result I created a workshop, and the students you see in my photographs are participants, performers and collaborators who are paid for their labour. This is a long-term engagement, taking place over years with one school and one final-year group. There’s a lot of unseen engagement, activities and relationships that happen outside of those images, that goes beyond the making of the work, that I’m writing about while exploring more equitable ways of working with the students. In a way, A Walk grew out of this engagement, inquiry and experiment of how to tell stories about other bodies; I was coming into an awareness of my body in these spaces and how I was being affected by the activity of producing that work. In my artistic practice, I’ve been searching for a way of working where I’m not a singular being that is the sole author, but more part of a whole, part of a wider movement and ecosystem of place and space; where it’s not just my limbs making, but also their limbs making. It’s not just my ideas, but their ideas too. The goal has been to create a model for collaboration that feels right for me, as an artist and documentarian. No one teaches you how to make these very specific models, especially not in journalism school. And – I guess, Aziz, you would know this well – being from a place and trying to represent that place, but also being directly affected by the events of that place, that shifts and changes you as well.

MI: My video Stampede of Champions uses found footage so here I’m coming at it from a different angle. Just from what you’ve both said, it is clear that it is complicated to work with actual people in a way that feels good and generative for everyone involved. This is partially why I tend to use my own body or found footage in my work. I think it’s admirable that you are both finding ways to ethically engage with people in your video practices. I made Stampede of Champions while ruminating on a time in US culture, mostly in the 2000s, when food fights were very common. I’ve experienced a food fight myself and looking back on the phenomenon now from a critical lens, it was a clear symbol of the greed and capitalist excess that America boasts –the idea that you can throw so much away without a second thought. But it also epitomises a very beautiful, carefree and naive part of youth – just kids having fun. I isolated moments in these food fight videos that were a bit ambiguous; you don’t really know if it’s hysteria, happiness, terror, or all three, which I think was probably usually the case. And then, as the video progresses, the sinister qualities dissipate and a lightness reveals itself – everyone can breathe a sigh of relief. Watching this video again, I was thinking about how much the hysteria of children in schools has changed because of all the mass shootings. In terms of using other people and external footage, I’ve tried to rationalise my actions by remembering that whenever anyone uploads videos onto the internet, other people can use clips from them to make compilations, and my way of contributing to that ecosystem is to put the videos I make back on the platform where I found them. I’m really interested in the

Gambo, Ilupeju, Hazara, Chiya & Ngodwana

transmission process that happens when you look at a screen full of strangers, yet you’re still able to feel that you’re there and deeply connected to what’s going on.

SC: Rahima initially mentioned time as a big part of working with the moving image. What does it mean to work with youth when thinking about time and moving images?

RG: When I’m working, particularly when I think of my ongoing work with students in Maiduguri, Nigeria, I’m hyperaware. I’m cognisant that this may be a small slice of history that I’m actively creating, that it may be drawn upon in the future with regard to what was happening at that time. I’m also very aware of the images that have already been produced about school girls, and the images being produced by development agencies. For me, it’s a matter of creating a space for original images that are resistant to some of these tropes that we’ve seen in the past.

AH: When it comes to making images, it’s a long process for me also because of being aware of what I’m putting out there. The whole idea of being a victim and victimised changes because these incidents happen daily, they become part of your everyday life. It’s maybe more defined when someone comes from outside of the context of their work, but when you live within it, there are a bunch of other problematic things. My solution has been to not strictly document but instead fictionalise what’s happening. Except with Monument – that video is literal documentation.

RG: I use the word ‘document’ out of habit, but I’m trying to find the right word for my activity. Essentially my role is as a facilitator, creating a space for something new, an alternative way of seeing to arise; I’m looking for marginal things, less articulate things, the way I think a poet would create. I’m taking in information and experience, processing it and attempting to bring it into form. Monilola, in your video I was almost waiting to be terrorised. I was on edge waiting for something horrific to happen. And I think this is the time that we’re in now, that the naivety of looking at images is gone. Images, and by extension moving images, aren’t innocent, or rather aren’t passive. When looking at the screen, we don’t know at which moment our eyes will be violated by what they encounter; our eyes are overstimulated and that can be traumatising over time.

MI: Speaking for myself, when the internet was first around, I was able to go on it unsupervised. I was seeing so many crazy things as a child, the most horrific things – beheadings and snuff films, heinous things that are online but not experienced in my dayto-day living. There’s this weird thing that happens, a second-hand trauma, a ghost trauma. Now, we’re always tensing up, bracing ourselves for something. With that constant bracing, there’s also a trauma or stress that happens; we’ve lost the muscle to relax and believe that everything is fine. In the film, as the scariness subsides, it becomes this really silly, funny thing. It is a reminder that maybe there are still parts of life where innocence and happiness can be experienced collectively. But once

76 A conversation about image-making

you insert the video into a broader political context, it gets very sad and fear-filled. You can’t have a large group of kids screaming and running around a school cafeteria anymore. Kids are terrified to go to school, parents are terrified to send them there. The effect that the video has on me is ongoing. Every time I rewatch it, I have a different sense of it. Another thing I’ve noticed is that my tolerance has shrunk. You would think that we’re desensitised to horrific images, but if I even attempt to watch any of the crazy shit online that I did when I was a kid, I find that I don’t have the stomach for it. It was easier for me to distance myself from the reality of it then.

RG: I think we are oversaturated, filled to the brim with images in our inner subconscious eye. Towards the end of 2020, I was feeling very much that I couldn’t take in any more information visually. That was when I made Instruments of Air. Especially after watching the video of George Floyd’s killing online, and the feeling of constriction and breathlessness it evoked, I was thinking a lot about air, what it means to inhale bad air, and for it to get lodged in you and weaken or sicken you, and how that air can be cleared. And I wonder what happens to all those images that we see – where do they go inside us and what happens when there’s too many ‘bad’ images, too much bad air?

RG: Rebecca Solnit says that when you’re walking, you’re ‘worlding’ or making the world because the world is revealing itself to you. Walking through the landscape is almost an improvisation, you’re not quite sure what note is going to be next. I realised that you can’t plan things, it’s when you have the camera rolling that something appears in your viewfinder. And later, when you’re in the editing room, looking at all that footage, reassembling all these disparate images, it’s then that it begins to makes sense.

MI: Aziz, your film also has an incredibly strong, yet unresolved ending. It made me feel a lot of things. Am I the drone? Or is the drone an oppressive force? Is the drone a tool, a foe?

MI: The entire video is beautiful, but the birth scene at the end was such a profound way to close the piece. I’m sure it was such a gift for you, walking and seeing that. What was going through your mind?

AH: In Kabul, which I call the capital of war on terror, the soundscape of the city is filled with drones, bomb blasts, and mosques that call for prayers five times a day. What one discerns in certain geographies in Afghanistan – which again is the geography of all these drone bombardments — is that drone strikes became quite normal. Even the youth started responding to drones in different ways. People started writing poems that go something like, ‘I’m looking for you like a drone, my love, you have become Osama, no one knows your whereabouts.’ Someone put that on a taxi that went around the city. Now, the moment people hear that sound echoing in the landscape, they walk away from each other. That’s one of the strategies that you use to survive these strikes. Around the time I was discovering these poems on public transport, I saw how kids were playing; they acted out confronting an enemy with this

Gambo, Ilupeju, Hazara, Chiya & Ngodwana

idea of killing a drone and having a fight with it. When I came back to Kabul, I asked my cousins, the kids, if they play this game too and they did.

SN: In thinking about Sun Ra, and his idea of transcending one’s body or one’s limitations, I’m reminded that both the human and Earth body are not solid and are in a way fluid, transcendental – they are constantly moving and shaping themselves in sometimes mysterious ways. I wondered how you think about the spiritual world, so to speak, or what your relationship is to things unseen?

AH: I am fascinated with rituals. In Eyes in the Sky, the film begins with the boys burning the wild rue, a ritual meant to keep the evil eye away. Every morning the kids come onto the street and perform it for you, and you pay them. Though there are all these eyes and drones above them, the people who are performing the ritual are below, hoping that the ritual keeps them away from the evil eye. That contrast is poetic. When you trace this ritual, it goes all the way to the Middle East, and before that, the whole idea of the evil eye was something different. Nowadays, these rituals have again transformed into something completely different.

between people, and the idea that one religion is more valid or true than another. In early high school, I became quite Christian but when I started asking questions about homosexuality and other things stated in the Bible, people couldn’t really give me the answers that I needed. Now, I don’t know if I can call art a religion, but art replenishes me. There are times when I’m making or experiencing art when I do feel a dissolving of the self against the background of everything else that is. What’s been crucial for me is recognising the way that the expression of one’s energy and the energy of everything else in the world comes from the same source. In my day-to-day life, when maybe I’m not very tapped into my creativity, I’ll feel a bit more hardened in terms of my borders, a bit more lost in my own world of immediate, administrative, stressful to-do lists. Making the time and space to go into my practice – which is an ambiguous space – can be difficult. Living in a way where your creativity is the force behind your life is a scary walk, because it’s not so clearly laid out, but I have faith in it and it’s given me so much. It’s also allowed me to give to other people. There are so many different ways to make art, to be art, to see art, to experience it. And there’s something so beautiful in that multiplicity. It’s not always easy, but I’d say I’m a firm believer in the Church of Art.

MI: My parents are from Nigeria. My father is Muslim, my mother Christian, and they’re divorced, so I grew up practising both religions simultaneously. If I was staying with my mom, I would go to church; if I was with my dad, I’d go to the mosque. From an early age, part of me felt a bit confused about how religion generates conflicts

RG: As artists we’re very intuitive, and I think that intuition can overflow into the spiritual realm. There’s something incredible about having a feeling, a sense or an innate knowing of what notes should be next, how you should compose something. What was interesting with everything happening in 2020 was looking at my

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about image-making

social media feed and feeling that I didn’t have to be the one expressing, that I could see other people express how I was feeling. I think that affirms that there’s a source that pulls us all together in the same direction. Looking at your works, Monilola and Aziz, I saw so much of what I’m trying to communicate. I know that even if I stopped producing work today, I would see that being channelled through someone else.

AH: I don’t know how it feels to grow up in a Muslim family in other parts of the world, but I grew up in a very radicalised place where everything was either God or be killed. So while I was growing up, right until the present, I have problems with religion. Like Monilola, I also didn’t receive answers to my questions. Spirituality, I think, is one of the things that you can experience or explore through many mediums, even poetry. But religion, especially hardcore religion, is a little bit heartbreaking because so many times the lines are defined: if you’re this and you’re practising these rituals with these terms, you will be killed, or if you’re practising that you will be not killed.

spoke about reliving events through photographs and videos; it doesn’t matter if I’m in Berlin or Australia or South Asia, the things that I receive are the same, and the distance becomes irrelevant because even if you’re not there physically, you’re there emotionally. How far can we escape then? The other day, when they blew up the school, I was in Sri Lanka on a beautiful island. I woke up and saw on my Facebook feed that my sister’s house had been blown away. At that moment I froze and it was as if the distance didn’t exist. Everything is really so close.

RG: It’s almost as if images generate this interior landscape in which time and space are absolutely distorted. I think these territories that we interrogate have to do with trauma and healing from that landscape.

SC: Is that why you guys are drawn to the terrain, because there’s something perennial about it? Even though individual lives can be fleeting, the environment has its longevity that goes beyond that? Even in your video, Monilola, it seems people become a herd – there’s something eternal about those dynamics.

SN: Aziz, I know this is a selfish question but I’m tempted to ask why you haven’t considered moving, because you have access to other spaces, which might or might not afford you the possibility of thinking about safety. I know your family is in Afghanistan, but I wondered still.

AH: The reality is that I can never really go far away –there’s no distance when it comes to these things. We

MI: I’ve become interested in collective intuitions or collective forces. Often we tend to think about intuition as an individual faculty, providing answers to questions like, ‘What should you do? Where should your heart lead you? What do you want?’ But I think there’s this other force that is moving us in different ways. It’s really beautiful but it goes both ways; at a party, the music changes and everyone’s suddenly joyful and dancing,

Gambo, Ilupeju, Hazara, Chiya & Ngodwana

or a mass shooting happens and society as a whole is devastated. It’s two sides of the same coin. Even if one is destructive, and one is generative, they’re entangled in this sublime but also deeply disturbing dance.

RG: I think for me the question is, ‘Where is the skin of the body, where do I end? Is what I’m looking at in front of me or behind my eyes?’ There is this weird distortion that happens. We are all this strange composite, made from different parts that are not all quite human; we’re a bit digital, technological, emotional and mental. Literally, the body itself has transformed. In your video, Aziz, at some point we are looking from the perspective of the drone, and it makes you wonder, as the audience, whether here we become the drone looking down at that scene. Are we implicated in the violence? I think of the violence of the gaze, of watching them. As a photographer, videographer, as an artist, in the very act of looking itself the veil of privacy is broken, and we have to come to terms with what it means to look and what it means to see.

doing that. It was interesting that someone in Nevada could fly an object into a landscape and bomb it – no contact with the ground, just a joystick and a button. Quite horrible that someone can change your life from above. So I was trying to shift the gaze with my work –they’re looking at you, but what happens if you look at them? That was the idea I was getting at by filming with drones. But you have to go through so much to fly in Kabul since it’s a no-fly zone. And then the Americans fly and you wonder what’s going on.

RG: In your framing of those scenes in Eyes in the Sky, are you implying that we’re not human, the us that’s watching? The form of looking is not passive at all. It’s absolutely oppressive in what it says about power and hierarchy. It doesn’t give any room for empathy whatsoever.

AH: Because we’re used to looking at things from the normal viewpoint, when you look at things from above, the landscape and perspective changes completely.

MI: I’m going to think about that question for a long time: ‘Is what I’m looking at in front of me or behind my eyes?’ That summarises so much of the confusion and curiosity that drive me in terms of trying to approach some semblance of truth.

AH: Speaking of gazes, when the Americans installed aerostats (kite balloons), a high-tech flying surveillance machine that enables them to watch you 24/7, the people who used to sleep on their rooftops stopped

MI: This reminds me of the title of Wu Tsang’s exhibition, There is no nonviolent way to look at somebody, and I totally agree. Looking in and of itself is a mechanism of power. You would think that if the person who’s being looked at is looking, then they’re empowered, but maybe there’s a different form of relationality that needs to be uncovered.

SC: Earlier you all had parallels about wanting to make ‘ethical’ terms of engagement, in terms of the

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power relations involved. So I’m wondering, what does it mean for you as storytellers that there’s always this density to navigate?

MI: I try to process that from the starting point of self-awareness. I understand the privileges and disprivileges that I have in this life, in this body, in how I grew up and how I look. I didn’t ask to be here – we were all thrust into life. We are here, together. And I think that the minute we operate from a sense of guilt we lose the ability to be really productive or healthy, to effect change within our society. It’s crucial not to pretend these power dynamics don’t exist. I’m beyond the point of constantly feeling the need to apologise for how I speak, who I am, or the things that interest me. Of course, I want to be critically aware and engage with people, but I think that everything we do is also imbued with our lived experiences, which include our biases. For me, accepting that reality has been the first step towards making work that I feel can help undo some of the conditioning that I know has shaped how I see things. I very much understand that we’re complicit in ways we can’t begin to fully understand, and so I think that this work requires a lot of self-compassion, and compassion for other people. We are all navigating something very confusing, frankly. But I do think that the desire to learn and to be better for yourself and your community is a start towards that direction.

then interrogating everything in a very philosophical way: your role, how you’re holding this tool, your positioning, who’s behind it, who’s in front of it, the production line, the feeling of the images, the whole of it. Charlotte Cotton describes the act of image-making as beginning way before you press the shutter – it’s all the steps that lead you to that image and everything that comes afterwards.

SC: For storytellers of the future, it starts with selfawareness and an acknowledgement that the Age of Innocence no longer exists?

RG: I think it’s a critically embodied practice now. The camera is not this objective passive thing that you’re holding, neutrally recording facts. I’m absolutely aware of my body in space when I’m holding a camera and even my body itself as a camera in the sense of how I am recording things. In a way that awareness disrupted my practice as a photographer, because other things wanted to come through beyond this tool of the camera that I was using.

RG: I mean, we’re past the Age of Innocence when it comes to photography. I think the starting point now is knowing that the tool we’re using is a violent tool, and

AH: When you work in a conflict zone, you’re basically walking in a minefield of ethical responsibilities. Being aware of that, I think, is the first step. You’re basically in the shithole of the world, and things that happen there don’t happen elsewhere. It affects you on a personal and collective level. I had a lot of questions at that time about the position of an artist in these kinds of situations. And if there is a position, or if you’re in the same boat as others in trying to talk about the complexity of everything.

Gambo, Ilupeju, Hazara, Chiya & Ngodwana

SC: It sounds as if, as artists, there’s a slow slimming of the difference between oneself and the people around you. Earlier Rahima said something about pinpointing where one’s skin even starts. It’s as if empathy isn’t a matter of putting yourself in another’s shoes, but that the proverbial shoes have no ownership.

everything feeds into that. Art is not a world away from what is happening in the everyday.

MI: Life is very scary a lot of the time. It’s really confusing and shocking just to exist. But it’s also miraculous and every day I wake up and think, ‘Whoa!’

RG: When I was talking about skin, I was thinking about the screen itself as a skin. If you think about being part of this wider body, and you’re at a border between the inside and outside, it’s not really about being in someone’s else’s shoes; rather it’s seeing oneself as part of an ecology where we’re all feeding into each other. I’m looking at them, but they’re also looking at me and we’re creating this thing together. And the fact that I’m there has absolutely, fundamentally changed the reality and the physics of that space. And that means we’re actually creating everything together as a collective body. You are cocreating with everything around you.

SN: With all this considered, what do you personally define as art? When you talk about art, what is it that you are referring to?

RG: Even now it’s hard for me to think about myself, in a traditional sense, as an artist. A lot of what I’m doing is taking things in, processing them, and then they have to come out in some form. I now think in a very ecological way; I ask how I fit into this wider thing, whether it’s my role in society, or my role in a space. Now, I’m of the feeling that everyone is an artist, and

To me, art is like that ‘Whoa’. It’s about seeing your way through the fog and being able to reach for things even if you’re not fully sure what they are. It’s about stepping into the very real confusion of being alive. It can be really easy to fall into this trap of thinking that everything is always familiar, so for me, art is a necessary exercise in the unfamiliarity of everything that exists around us, and figuring out how to not be afraid of that reality. I think art is life. It’s such a beautiful way for us to communicate with each other. Even if we don’t speak the same language or come from the same backgrounds, there’s this connective tissue that joins us, and it’s been around forever, and it will be around until we’re not here, and maybe even after. And it’s always shifting and changing, like all of us. And I think that the reflexive relationship of art is so powerful that you can always discover new things, or see the same thing in a different way, or from different angles. It’s a never-ending process of discovery. Art, to me, is about embracing unfamiliarity, and really sitting in that and allowing it to hold you.

AH: Most of the time I’m trying to make sense of what’s happening around me. And one of the things that I’m familiar with is images. Art becomes a tool to understand what’s happening, and to make sense of

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what has happened before. It’s a shifting ground, where at times the definition changes, and that’s what I like about it.

because healing seems to be such a fundamental part of our existence as human beings or life forms, does that mean pain or violence is a natural thing? Is pain part of our DNA?

RG: And it’s so much to think about, so much material, so much excess. So what do you do with the excess? You play with it, and you create a new language with it. You look at the things that people don’t want to look at, or what they perceive as debris, and you create something beautiful with it, new and fresh. Maybe it’s part of an economy of hope.

AH: And also, sometimes it becomes healing. This whole process of making becomes healing. Most of the time, we feel that we need to make in order to heal ourselves.

MI: I totally agree. Selfishly, when I make something and I think it’s communicating what I wanted it to, I feel reborn. I feel like every cell in my body realigns. And then of course, over time, things fall out of whack, and art again becomes a process of realignment. Seeing artworks also makes me feel more connected to what’s around me. I feel grateful to be part of that legacy in whatever way. I think it’s incredible that we have the ability to do what we do, even if we have to navigate the sometimes uncomfortable aspects of being an artist, whether it’s administrative or financial or about other weird perversions of the art world or capitalism at large.

RG: I see my practice as absolutely a healing practice for myself – I’m producing medicine for myself. I think knowing the history of the camera, how violent it is, makes me a part of that history and I’m using that tool to create a whole parallel practice of trying to heal or trying to make sense of all that. As ‘minorities’ or people of colour and Black women, we do the labour of healing, the labour of caring for people, and it is often unseen or devalued labour. A Walk Space and my A walk series are all about trying to get to that space of healing. When you encounter the work, hopefully there’s a healing resonance that comes through.

SN: Because we’re talking about so much discomfort and pain and violence, what do you do as a form of healing or of transcending the pain or discomfort? And

MI: For me, healing is partially about setting boundaries. As you said, Rahima, there is a major imbalance of labour that Black women and other marginalised groups facing a dominant culture are forced to shoulder. Healing means coming to terms with the fact that energy is both finite and infinite, it’s constantly replenishing itself, but it will deplete, and you can’t always be in that space of having 100 percent of yourself all the time. I think that oftentimes, especially as a Black woman, when you draw your boundaries, whether in professional situations, romance, friendships, you can be seen as an aggressive person, a bitch or some other fictitious trope. Healing has also meant allowing myself to sit in silence without any

Gambo, Ilupeju, Hazara, Chiya & Ngodwana

distractions. I think that it’s really important to have stillness, to have a moment of privacy, or of assessing what’s going on. And I think it’s so beautiful that Black women have, in some ways, this legacy of healing and nurturing and caring, but I think that needs to be reflected back at ourselves more. I am happy to see that self-care, even if it’s a buzzword these days, is in the public consciousness in a different way than it was maybe 10 or 15 years ago.

AH: I’m literally exposed to violence every day so I agree with the silence. The stillness helps. I haven’t come up with a conclusion or a linear solution.

MI: Aziz, earlier you described the sonic landscape in Kabul as filled with drones, mosque prayers, bombings, and other forms of noise pollution and violence. That makes me think that stillness is not always accessible. Have you found other ways to access stillness?

AH: Strangely, sometimes when I play the flute, the act of making sound becomes the healing process. People, especially Afghan women, have navigated that space a lot. And when it comes to silence, I think they are the ones who guide us through because, again, the things that they’ve seen … even historically, they have been silenced for a very long time.

SC: What you want from art itself is healing? Is that why you all continue to do this?

RG: There isn’t a work-life separation or life-art separation. Art is everything. You have to ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing this? Would I still be doing it if no one was watching or buying?’ The answer would be yes because it is integral to my sense of self, balance and well-being. The bare bones of the purpose of what I’m doing always comes back to my body, and what it means to take things in, process them, and finally get them out into the world. It’s beyond whatever production line there is in terms of the art economy.

AH: For me, art is the only window I can think through. So far I haven’t come up with any other strategy to cope with the level of violence that I experience every day both online and offline.

RG: It’s interesting how you talk about the sonic space as a healing place. Because I think it is territory that hasn’t been able to be completely controlled or understood. I’m thinking about this radio programme called The Sonic Liberation Front, based in Israel, which has been creating music in solidarity with the Palestinians. Yesterday they had poetry readings by Palestinian poets, and I was thinking the freedom of this space is so outside even the concept of an oppressor. I think healing in itself is creating these territories, these clearings, which almost dispel the reality of the world. There’s something about sound that creates that boundless space. In your video work, there are these really powerful soundscapes. And maybe even unconsciously, you’re creating a ‘force field’ through your work.

MI: I think you’re gonna find a way.

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The initiates, 2020 Carved wood


Staffs, 2020

Installation with 22 works, carved wood


Infirmary, 2014, 2019: Chorus; Bird posing as a cormorant; Palm with putti and nests, Servers, Lamb, 2016, and Virtue; Maladies

3 multi-media figures with felt, feathers, found fish skulls from Verlorenvlei, ribbon and ecclesiastical brocade, South African Defence Force missile box; life-size figure in used ecclesiastical garb and found clothing with artificial and natural palm, 7 abandoned Cape weaver nests and 9 mixed media figures with miniature weapons, birds and fish; 3 multimedia figures with broom carved by artist Thami Kiti, brass bell made in Africa, artificial proteas and olive stems, dried natural wheat stems, sickle, found clothing and 2 handmade alms bags; oil-painted plaster figure with rope and brass bell made in Africa; multi-media figure with found black gloves and chair; industrial-strength gloves; 7 oil-painted plaster figures with felt; oil-painted bronze figure


Infirmary, detail:

Bird posing as a cormorant, 2014, 2019


Infirmary, detail: Maladies, 2014, 2019


Wonderland, 2016

Single-channel digital video


The Memory of Time, 2018

Single-channel digital video



Manhood, 2015/16 Acrylic on canvas

The Spirit guides her towards marriage, 2014/15 Oil on canvas


The call from things, 2021

Fired wild clay with soil, wood, stones, plants and mosses


The call from things, 2021 Performance, 2 September 2021


Transfiguration, 2021

Glue, ink and oil on canvas



selves, 2021
with 46 works, glue, ink and oil on canvas

Celluloid Body, 2021

Found 8mm film, digital sound


Eyes in the Sky, 2020

Single-channel digital video


There Are No, 2021 Ink on paper

There Are No Complete Knowledges, 2021 Ink on paper


The Case of the Agricultural Hyperpolyglot, 2021 Ink on paper



Performance, 23 and 24 July 2021, Stevenson, Cape Town


SC: Léonard and Ajamu, what made you choose the camera as your tool for expression?

AX: I fell into photography by chance. It started in 1985, when I was working on a journal article about Black male bodybuilders and needed a photograph to go with it. Before that, I have fond memories of dressing up with my siblings for family photographs. I was curious about this piece of paper that the photographer would come back with two weeks later, that had me and my siblings on it. There was something rich in waiting for this thing called ‘the photograph’ to return. Decades later, I find myself in the darkroom with that same sense of waiting, not knowing what will happen. For me it’s not just about the image – I’m as excited by the process.

LP: I didn’t really grow up with photography; what was present was drawing, and narratives. The importance of stories was a big part of growing up. People were invited into the home to tell stories, from professional storytellers to family members’ reports of what life is like, what Congo is like. Photography came because when I was at university, I felt frustrated with the cerebral way of relating to reality – of classifying things, defining concepts, objectifying everything and everyone. I started moving towards images because I realised I needed another language, and that by using a visual language I could move away from this need to capture and encapsulate every idea, person, environment, atmosphere or feeling into an analysed mental concept. This took me further and further away


from a rational, analytical, ‘truth’-related documentary style of photography. I now have a connection to creating images with a strong emotional impact, but that’s part of a long thought process. I’m not a very mental photographer when it comes to the making of the image, but I spend a lot of time reflecting on what I want to show. For me, the editing process is as essential as the time spent crafting the shot.

AX: I think a lot more needs to be said about Black and brown or queer work around craft and process. It’s as if craft is a dirty word. We are so locked into the representational that people forget the photographic image is also an object. Going back to Descartes’s dualism, with the mind on top of the hierarchical tree and the senses lower down, I would argue that the rational is racialised as white and the senses are linked to the Black body so there is a resistance to talking about sensuousness and sensation as an actual materiality. There is a fear of talking about pleasure and the making process. Using Audre Lorde’s concepts in Uses of the Erotic, photography means using the whole body, not something divided between mind, body and spirit. Skin and flesh are among the ways that we craft this thing called the image or the photograph. The image is felt and sensed first and foremost.

SN: What is your journey in moving between colour and black and white?

at play. Also, black and white sits within a 19th century tradition that I really love. I insert Black queers into this tradition, especially if working with platinum prints, soft prints or wet prints. The first images that I saw of Black men with other Black men were from African American pornography, and those were black and white. So the work pulls upon various traditions which it simultaneously tries to subvert. For me, it’s important to acknowledge that we are working in a particular tradition that we’ve also subverted. Photography is a medium, it is a technology and a language to articulate a whole range of ideas.

Sometimes the image is chosen because it works beyond a speakable logic. It’s got to arrest you, whether through lighting, composition, content, framing or scale. Because we are in the photography market, there’s an obsession with a single image as the product, but there’s a danger in funnelling our ideas and emotions through a single image, which is why I think it’s important not to separate process from the result.

AX: For me, black and white is not devoid of colour; it’s a false binary when you think of all the tonalities

LP: I love the idea of not repurposing a certain aesthetic or set of techniques, but choosing to have the freedom to select the language that suits you. When people used black and white at the beginning of photography they did so not for aesthetic purposes but because of technical limitations. In the context of the DRC, black and white photography is connected to pseudo-scientific, ethnographic photography, so black and white images are attached to that idea of classifying, reducing or defining people, and by extension exerting power over them. Using black and

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white is also a way to abstract myself from reality. I use blur to force an audience to be in another realm, to lose their reference points, and to feel and perceive things differently. It’s very interesting to have the absence of information and colour be part of that because you’re still playing with the same light, you just choose to use a constraint. I find it empowering as it focuses the mind on something. I agree with what you’ve said about process but I also love to think that people actually see or receive the process.

AX: We also have to acknowledge that the image is not for everybody to access, because some people can’t. And that’s OK too.

irrespective of my involvement in the process. This is where the darkroom comes in, because, yes, there’s order and structure, but risk is always there somewhere in the process. Dust might come from somewhere and disrupt the process. There’s chance with the photograph.

LP: Photography is not a tool for representing reality – it is another language entirely. It’s a language that allows you to subvert reality. At times it may look like reality but it’s a whole universe on its own and you can define it on your terms. You can confuse people, and you can force them to see things they don’t want to see. You can craft images in such a way that the audience can’t miss things that will make them uncomfortable or make them think. The playfulness and the subversion are essential parts of what this visual language can do.

AX: The photograph is not just a visual language, it’s part of a long list of non-linguistic languages, if we account for the senses and sensations. If I touch the print, the print also is touching me and that means the print is not passive. I tend to think that the photograph has its own aliveness because it does what it does,

LP: I don’t know if I make the photos or if I direct moments. The language of The Uncanny is very strongly anchored in this idea of crafting, interacting with the image, seeing what’s in it. Sometimes a face comes out, sometimes texture; sometimes you realise you’ve photographed something that’s so different from what you thought you were doing. That’s why I like having moments where I use different parts of my brain. The process has steps that allow for that.

SC: In our first conversation, Rahima Gambo said that the Age of Innocence with photography is over. You both sound like true believers in the medium’s capacity to become language. Do you believe that photography can be representative, if not representational?

AX: I think photography has never been innocent, period. And yes, of course, the photograph can be representational and representative. I still think we’re locked into the paradigm whereby there is the hierarchy of the senses and that means the photograph will first and foremost be read as representational, as residue from Barthes and semiotics. But the deeper question is what else are we not talking about in terms of Black and brown, queer work, in terms of the materiality of

Pongo, X, Chiya & Ngodwana

this thing called photography and the photographic? The conversation around things being representational is tiring. Not that this work is not important, but it needs to be more nuanced and we have to let go of this obsession with Black and brown queer artists trying to educate people through their photography. It’s not sociology, it’s photography – it’s a discipline, a craft, a technology, materiality, matter.

If you work in the darkroom, at certain points, there is no image anywhere; once the light goes on after you open up the door, that’s when it gets pulled into these conversations. We’re talking from the place of the lights, and not the dark, and those are some of these other things that we need to consider – touch and smell and texture, because all that gets lost once that print is out of the door and into the world. Once my work is in the public domain, it is no longer my work because it gets pulled into so many directions.

codes that I misread, some that I see and some I don’t. There are plenty of slaps in the face, but that has helped me understand the place. That process of learning has value and I want to show that in the images. I can be many people because people aren’t a single story.

I grew up with storytellers who would relay the same story in a different way. Then, we thought maybe they were full of shit or didn’t know their jobs, but now we realise that it actually doesn’t matter. That maybe there are elements, by telling the tale differently, that are extremely relevant and important, that he’s successfully transmitting to people, that go beyond the contents of the story. I think in some parts of the world, the artist, the author and the audience make themselves believe they are experts on a subject or an image, which is weird because when you’re talking about people, events, nature, these things are so much bigger than our understanding.

LP: Yes, photography is made by people and people are not neutral. I’m not interested in seeing a photo project by a Google car. I’m interested in reading or reacting to the way that another human being’s subjectivity is expressed. Of course, there’s the need to label things as representative of something else but please give us plurality, give us the opportunity to disagree. There’s no need for the single story to be the right story though there can be versions that are most appropriate at a certain time. I find it very important to have this be obvious in my work. I photograph in the Congo, I haven’t grown up there so there are plenty of

AX: I think because Black lives and Black queer lives are predominantly seen through a social, public lens, our craft is then put through that lens as well. Really, the critical question is around the other ways we could world-make in terms of our internal worth. There’s no boundary between the internal and external, but I think that’s because our lives are constantly pulled through the social public lens. People assume that if you are a Black and queer artist, your work is about identity and representation by default. These kinds of assumptions have been embedded into how we talk about photography, and what that does is stop people from talking about exactly what the work is;

112 A conversation about photography

they stop seeing, sensing or feeling what’s in front of them. What I’m saying is let’s talk about the work and not everything else that you think should be wrapped around it, not what you think Black artists or queer artists should be doing.

SN: It seems the obsession with reason created a society of non-reason, which sits on the outskirts of this truth. This ‘truth’ is depicted as whiteness and the rest of the universe exists around it. The way people approach images of and art by Black and queer people is from this centre where everything else is seen as periphery. You see it in art history, in art writing …

AX: I think some people cannot comprehend that you do not start from the white gaze. Some people cannot comprehend that you don’t start with them at the centre.

LP: It’s a mental habit, not being able to decentre yourself. When you grew up not being at the centre, or without enough examples, there are so many things that take a lot of space that are not you. You don’t need to make another into the Other.

I’m often asked why I don’t have projects that centre Belgium. And I always tell people that I’m showing what I’m interested in, what I value looking at. I’m interacting with the people I need to interact with. And right now it is this. It’s also about passion, about wanting to do something with people in a specific environment, with specific topics. I love reading books by Dany Laferrière, a Haitian writer who very early moved to Canada, and wrote a lot about his experience there. His first book was

How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired, and later on he wrote I Am a Japanese Writer. By virtue of that, he was invited to Japan, with some people taking a crazy interest in him and others getting offended. I think we are getting to a point where that idea of going beyond centre and periphery is seeping through slowly. The process and need for labelling and classifying is dangerous at any level – politically, creatively, humanly –and there’s enough proof for that. To be clear, however, I don’t think of myself as the Silver Surfer of the ethics of representation. I’m a failing, biased human being. You put as much as you can in it, you set boundaries to a visual realm in a way. Of course, you hope to guide people in a certain direction, but for the rest, it’s a very liberating and sometimes frustrating experience.

SC: Ajamu, you’ve mentioned Audre Lorde’s Uses of the Erotic as one of your guiding texts in terms of relating to images in the world. I’m wondering if you can speak more about how that connects to your intention and your ability to let an image go once it’s no longer yours. And for you, Léonard, what’s the most useful way of understanding your work?

AX: My starting point is that text, as well as living in a culture that has a fear of the erotic. I think we spend time talking about sexuality, but not sex; we spend time talking about desire, not pleasure. What that does to our Black politics, our queer politics, our Black queer politics, is turn it into respectability politics because there is this thing about not acknowledging the body. We spend a lot of time talking about what is done to

113 Pongo,
X, Chiya & Ngodwana

Black bodies – and we should never lose sight of that –but we should also speak about what it is we want to be done with and through our own Black and brown bodies too. As I’m somebody who is out about being gay, I am also marginalised within my own Black queer networks because of my sexual practices, being into kink and S&M. There is this reluctance to talk about the erotic and sensuousness and joy as a politic, and that’s why I’m always drawn to those unruly Black folks and bodies who don’t quite fit or are really grappling with the erotic, pleasure and joy.

I remember during the 1990s, I got a lot of hassle from some of my fellow Black queer folks because my work was not seen as positive representation, and my response was ‘positive to who?’ I think we create order and structure to make sense of certain things, and the erotic does what it does as well. I do want my work to bring joy to people, literally, but joy that doesn’t lose sight of the material body.

the honesty to treat me as an equal and not sugarcoat their reality. There was also the reality of me being around them, and this inter-relational process meant

I had to give some of me up to them too. I would not be the same person today if I hadn’t tried to carry on with that project. I see the work as a collection of experiences. I see that chaotic mosaic as so much life knowledge. The whole project allowed me to become someone that I needed to become and it’s shown me so many of my limitations, my ignorance, and also how useful I can be, how my position is one of privilege and how that privilege can be shared and useful to others. The main word that I would put forward is this need for connection, and obviously it creates friction. I’ve also seen having that privilege to navigate some communities as a way that allows me to play a bit of the trickster and poke at things where it also shows my failings as a person. But I think it also is a possibility for a healthy dialogue or multilogues.

LP: For me the work needs to be seen as coming from a desire to connect. The work evolved from identifying a lack of connection and trying to see how I could address it, and where that would bring me, while letting go of a desire or need to control. It came from a need to connect with cities, with a country, with a land and with people in a way that was not purely a mental experience. None of it was up to me and it didn’t happen overnight. It only happened because I’m lucky to have a very supportive family that took me on board. I would say they showed me but it was a bit more violent than that. There’s also a lot of love and care and they had

AX: I love your word friction. I think friction is about how things rub up against each other in ways that are pleasurable or not pleasurable. And it is that rubbing up that creates the kinds of conversations, ways of thinking about the medium and the craft. Friction is a beautiful word.

SN: You have both been practicing for a long time, and I wonder what you think when you look back at the start of your practice. What has changed or shifted in the way that you approach your own creativity? And what are the things that you’re still curious about exploring?

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AX: I’m going to start by pushing back slightly against what we call the start of a practice. I think to understand some artists’ work, you have to look at what was going on at least 10 years before they took up the camera or the paintbrush. What they were reading or listening to, who they were talking with, is all part of the practice. I don’t think the practice is just the work we produce – everything that comes into it is the practice. We call it practice because actually it’s something that’s constantly ongoing and unfolding. So how do I look back? It depends on which bodies of work I’m looking back on because of who I’ve photographed. For my current show, I’m archiving and I’m going through contact sheets from the late 1980s onwards. On one level it brought a lot of joy and pleasure, but it’s also quite a painful process because of some people who are no longer here. I think that I have a more of an emotional connection to the ‘work’ in the past. But also, the beauty of looking back is returning to some ideas I was trying to work through in the 1990s and realising that I’m now at a stage where I could capture the images exactly how I want to capture them now. I use my contact sheet as my notes. It’s not a linear process, there’s lots happening at the same time.

materiality is becoming something I work a lot more with. I’ve done a lot of experimental work with textiles, destroying images, altering physical objects. I always come back to having a great need for that which can be touched, interacted with, or can short circuit the brain. Maybe it’s an obsession with signifying to people that there’s not just one sort of rationality and not everything needs to go through the discriminative mind.

SC: So what does the archive mean to you?

LP: Mess!

LP: Practice is just a process for me. I’m seeing that so clearly with my last project, which revolves a lot around recurring cycles. In a practice there are motifs that will haunt you and keep coming back, seeping through different projects in various ways. I’ve worked a lot as a photojournalist, hence my issues and frustrations with reality and single stories, but I think

AX: A lot of the conversation around the archive talks about archival structures, but it doesn’t talk about the actual materiality of the archive. I think about the archive as something that’s embodied. Not just a space or location, although it can be that also. I would argue that the Black queer body is the archive because we embody memory. And that means our memories have been held in our lips, vaginas, dicks, arseholes, because once again, every part of our body holds memories in some shape or form. For some people, it might be pleasurable, for some it might be painful or traumatic. I think we need to think about the archive as not fixed or rigid but something that’s more porous, fleshy, sensuous. Lots of our Black, queer archival practice is seen through that social and cultural lens but what about the love letters that we’ve kept, underwear from boys, bras from girlfriends –things that aren’t seen as part of social and cultural history but are key to who we are?

Pongo, X, Chiya & Ngodwana

SN: Ajamu, you turn the body into flesh or matter rather than identity or a cultural symbol. And Léonard, on the other hand, you take the body and you turn it into energy or presence. You get the sense that human beings are there and are represented, but at the same time, they’re not what we think they are. They’re not Black bodies, they’re not female bodies, they’re not male bodies. They aren’t social objects, but mental energy. I think it’s beautiful in relation to what Ajamu’s just said about how the archive is part of the body. Often we think of the archive as something outside of the body whereas, through your work, all of these things that we seek from outside of our own bodies are actually embedded in our flesh and our energies and our clothes and our bras or panties.

AX: Yes. We enter the archive first and foremost through the senses, whereas our politics have moved it away from our own bodies. I think we need to not lose sight of our material bodies, not the social body, not the political Black body, but our material body, the natural materiality of Blackness and queerness. The energy is really key too because the energy is matter as well.

the day with one of my cousins reminds me of another time that we spent together doing whatever. That tells me so much, and that’s so much more than looking at a photo of him posing, being a cool boy by the door. The way that people can inhabit themselves in a space and project so much onto you is very clear even from just staring. It’s important for me to have an audience that sees the images from The Uncanny have these stares and to receive them very strongly and to have these bodies that are bigger than them. That’s always been an essential part of this energy that I wanted to encapsulate. The work is about the power of the people of that country, and of course there’s a lot of love and admiration but it’s also a way for me to short circuit the fascination. I won’t give you images that you control and analyse and refer to. I’ll give you something you can’t do that to so that you’ll be forced to feel something that you don’t want to feel for this Other. That’s how photography can be a bag of tricks that you can use to challenge people.

LP: Funnily enough, when I first started with The Uncanny, a title I played with was A Certain Energy. For me the archive is the people. I grew up with the idea of Congo holding so many keys to knowledge. But the only way to access it was through the people, the land, the atmosphere in its entirety. Even though I’m a photographer, it’s really not my language to look back at photos, but to go to people I photograph. Spending

AX: I love the idea about the archive being messy. We tend to think the archive is ordered and structured ... I mean, I find the archive in all kinds of places. And then I like what you just said, that you don’t give in completely or just give people what they want – talk about foreplay! And so we go back to the erotic, pleasure and joy. Back to messiness, which I love.

116 A conversation about photography

Dancing Girls Yoruba, 1950 Gouache on paper, laid on card

After Dinner 2, 2018 Inkjet print
Self-Portrait in Red, 2016 Inkjet print
Stampede of Champions, 2018 Single-channel digital video

Not Yet Titled (blood memory), 2021 Raw wool, yarn, dirt, blood


Not Yet Titled (light), 2021

Raw wool, yarn, dirt, blood

Bhuvaneswari Kali, 2020 Mixed media Kali: The Black Liberator, 2020/21 Mixed media Matangi Kali, 2020 Mixed media
Chapter 2, Pieces Of Radical Makazi: Gogo & Makazi, 2021
Single-channel digital video
Natives of Minemoon, The Elder, 2021 Acrylic on canvas
Natives of Minemoon, The Philosopher, 2021 Acrylic on canvas
Faster, 2020 Thread, acrylic, ink on tracing paper

One by one all the shafts will be closed, 2021

Powder coated steel



MAZE, 2021

Black and white corn in 49 Sunflower oil buckets


UNTITLED, 2021 Charcoal on paper



Ajamu X, born in Huddersfield, England in 1963 to Jamaican parents, lives and works in London. A photographer, archival curator, radical sex activist and founder of the lauded Black Perverts Network, Ajamu X’s dedication to the Black and queer community spans his 30-year career. Known for his visual explorations of same-sex desire and the Black male body, Ajamu X says, ‘My work has been driven by a desire to show Black Queer lives as we truly are: with passion, with intimacy, with sex, with desire, with love and with community.’ In 2021 he entered the Tate Collection, published a monograph with Autograph ABP titled, Ajamu: Archive and presented a solo exhibition at Cubitt Gallery, London.

Aziz Hazara was born in 1992 in Wardak, Afghanistan, and lives and works between Kabul and Ghent. He works across mediums to explore questions around identity, memory, conflict, surveillance and migration, while making reference to geopolitics, power relations and the panopticon. Hazara often reflects on the scale and consequences of violence in his work, saying: ‘The question of how best to represent this history and its effect on the lives of individuals has been one of the most persistent questions. Very often, the idea of representation becomes a dilemma.’ He won the 2021 Future Generation Art Prize and is set to take part in the 58th Carnegie International (2022).

Belinda Blignaut, born in 1968 in the Eastern Cape, lives and works in Cape Town as a multimedia artist. Emerging in the early 1990s as a member of a group of experimental Johannesburg artists whose works served as a commentary on the social and political state of the country, Blignaut has been processing issues around transformation, with the body and organic matter as the locus of discussion. She has presented solo exhibitions with blank projects (2018) and SMAC gallery (2019), and most recently gave a performance of her acclaimed Mud Rites at Foundation Thalie, Brussels, as part of a group show titled The Sowers (2021).

Ben Enwonwu was born in 1917 in Onitsha, Nigeria, and passed away in Lagos in 1994. Credited with increasing the visibility of African modern art and being a pioneer of modernist aesthetics in the region, Enwonwu also championed the role of artists in the anti-colonial struggle. In 1946, Enwonwu represented Africa at the International Exhibition of Modern Art held at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris, and in 1991 a retrospective show spanning 50 years was held in his honour at the National Museum in Lagos.


Dada Khanyisa was born in 1991 in Umzimkhulu, KwaZulu-Natal, and lives and works in Cape Town. They completed a Bachelor of Fine Art degree at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town. Khanyisa often paints murals and participates in public art projects; most recently they created a mural in KwaLanga to raise awareness around Covid-19, and featured in Global Positionings, a cross-cultural exhibition that took place across 320 JCDecaux bus shelters (2022). They have presented two solo exhibitions with Stevenson.

Erkan Özgen, born in 1971 in Derik, Turkey, and lives and works in Diyarbakir. A photographer and video artist, Özgen graduated from Çukurova University in 2000. In 2005, Özgen travelled to Sweden to take part in the International Artists Studio Program at Rooseum Center in Malmö. In the same year, he was awarded the Prix Meuly at Kunstmuseum Thun in Switzerland. He has presented solo exhibitions at institutions including Kunsthal Rotterdam (2022) and Foundation Antoni Tapies, Barcelona (2019); He has participated in the biennales of Mardin (2022), Busan and Sydney (2020) and Istanbul (2017).

Ernest Mancoba, considered one of South Africa’s first modern artists, was born in Johannesburg in 1904 and passed away in France in 2002. He studied and trained to be a teacher and sculptor between 1920 and 1938, during which he produced seminal works such as his African Madonna (1929). He moved to Paris in 1938, where he produced his first oil painting, joining CoBrA and embracing abstraction as he navigated Europe. Following a retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in 2019, A4 Arts Foundation presented a symposium to honour Mancoba in 2020. In that year, Södertälje Konsthall also paid homage to the artist with an exhibition titled Ernest Mancoba – An Artist and His Legacy. Museum Jorn, Silkeborg, presented Freedom Through Art, an overview of Mancoba’s works drawn from their collection, in 2021.

Farah Al Qasimi , born in Abu Dhabi in 1991, lives and works between Brooklyn, New York, and Dubai. Al Qasimi obtained an MFA from Yale School of Art in 2017 and currently teaches at the Pratt Institute and Rhode Island School of Design. The artist and musician is best known for an Emirati aesthetic informing her photography. Quasimi features in public collections including the Guggenheim Museums in New York and Abu Dhabi, and Tate Modern. Hello Future, her photobook-cum-monograph, was published by Capricious in 2021.

Feelings Radio Project is a pop-up radio and performance experiment utilising sound-collage, music, open dialogue and improvisation to interrogate and ‘get in our feelings’ about a range of issues in South Africa and the larger global context. Hosted by performer-conductor Malik Ntone Edjabe and record collector and DJ Joey Modiba, the project is inspired by a set of philosophical principles developed by People’s Education, and draws significantly on their educational tool, Freespace, as a performance format. ‘To this degree, [we aim] to provide an open platform for spontaneous transdisciplinary creative interchange, emphasising the breaking of intergroup boundaries, such as audience/performer and participant/ facilitator relations.’


Frida Orupabo was born in 1986 in Sarpsborg, Norway, and lives in Oslo. Her work consists of digital and physical collages in various forms, which explore questions related to race, family relations, gender, sexuality, violence and identity. Recent solo exhibitions include I have seen a million pictures of my face and still I have no idea at Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland (2022), and How did you feel when you come out of the wilderness at Kunsthall Trondheim, Norway (2021). In 2022 she featured in Currency, the 8th Triennial of Photography Hamburg.

Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi was born in 1943 in Marapyane, South Africa, and lives in Johannesburg. In 1989, Sebidi was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to travel to the USA, where she studied at the Millay Colony for the Arts in Austerlitz. In the same year Sebidi won the Standard Bank Young Artist Award in South Africa and spoke at both Yale and Mississippi Universities. In 2004 she was honoured with South Africa’s Order of Ikhamanga, and in 2011 she was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award for Visual Art. In 2015, Sebidi also received the Mbokoto Women’s Award. Batlhaping Ba Re!, a retrospective exhibition of her work, took place at the Norval Foundation in 2018.

Jane Alexander was born in 1959 in Johannesburg and lives in Cape Town. Alexander obtained her Master of Arts in Fine Arts from the University of the Witwatersrand in 1988, and it was during this period that she produced Butcher Boys (1986), which became a defining work in local art history, forming part of the South African National Gallery’s collection. She took part in the 1994 Havana Biennale and 1995 Venice Biennale. Also in 1995, Alexander received the Standard Bank Young Artist Award, and in 1996 she won the FNB Vita Art Now Award. She is a professor at the Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town where she has taught sculpture, photography and drawing since 1998.

Kamyar Bineshtarigh was born in Semnan, Iran, in 1996 and lives and works in Cape Town. He received a BA from the Michaelis School of Fine Art in 2021 and previously graduated from the Ruth Prowse School of Art where he won the Ruth Prowse Prize (2019). The son of a calligrapher, Bineshtarigh attributes his understanding of the principles of measurement and form in Arabic visuality to his upbringing. He has recently presented koples boek(e), a solo exhibition, at the Goethe-Institut in Johannesburg.

Kaylin Moonsamy is a multidisciplinary Kali-kula tantric artist born in Durban, currently living in Cape Town. They graduated from Michaelis School of Fine Art in 2020. Moonsamy works across media, focusing on unconventional materials and non-western motifs to develop a decolonial framework. They say, ‘from the stance of an Indian African Black body, I provide the example of British induced suffering from the colonization of my motherland India, namely the Bengal famine of 1943 in which 4.3 million people starved to death ... As a practitioner of Kali-kula (family of Kali) Tantra, I find it appropriate to use Tantra as a way of perceiving, becoming aware of, and letting go of the impact of colonialism which enforced “stains” of racism, ignorance and white supremacy.’

Léonard Pongo, born in Belgium in 1988, is based between Kinshasa and Brussels. He was one of five winners of the 2014 POPCAP award for his series The Uncanny. Pongo’s work has been published widely and featured in exhibitions including IncarNations at the Bozar Center for Fine Arts, Brussels (2018), and the 3rd Beijing Photo Biennial at CAFA Art Museum (2018). His first institutional solo show took place at Bozar in 2021. Pongo is the winner of the ICP/GOST First Photo Book award 2020.


Meleko Mokgosi, an associate professor in painting/printmaking at Yale School of Art, was born in Francistown, Botswana, in 1981, and lives and works in New York. He obtained his BA at Williams College, Massachusetts; attended the Whitney Independent Study Program in New York, and thereafter completed his MFA under the mentorship of Mary Kelly at UCLA. He has recently been named the 2021-22 Henry L and Natalie E Freund Teaching Fellow at Washington University in St Louis. Recent exhibitionds include Your Trip to Africa at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, and Pan-African Pulp at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (2020-21).

Monilola Olayemi Ilupeju , born in 1996, is a transdisciplinary Nigerian-American artist and writer living in Berlin. Her practice aims to address ‘the distortions that systemic structures project onto Bodies, while emphasising the healing and generative potential of perversion’. In 2018 she received a BFA with distinction from New York University and graduated from the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. She has presented solo exhibitions at Galerie im Turm, Berlin (2020); and The Institute for Endotic Research (TIER), Berlin (2020). She features in non playable character by The Farest, Berlin, and The School for Curatorial Studies, Venice, taking place over the course of the city’s biennale. Moshekwa Langa was born in 1975 in Bakenberg, Limpopo, and lives in Amsterdam. He studied at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam in 1997-98. Rising to international prominence in the late 1990s, he was an active participant in what is now considered the golden age of biennales; including those of Johannesburg (1997), Istanbul (1997), Havana (1997), São Paulo (1998 and 2010), Gwangju (2000), Venice (2003 and 2009) and Lyon (2011). A solo exhibition of Langa’s works took place at the Chapel of the Cordeliers as part of Printemps de septembre (2021). His work features in A Clearing in the Forest, an evolving display in the Tanks section of Tate Modern, UK.

Natasja Kensmil was born in 1973 in Amsterdam, and lives and works there. Kensmil studied in her hometown between 1990 and 1998 at Vrije Tekenacademie, Gerrit Rietveld Academie and De Ateliers. Throughout her oeuvre Kensmil has been inspired by the history of powerholders and historical figures and the consequence of tragedy particular to these. She recently showed alongside Sadik Kwaish Alfraji in a dual solo exhibition at Kunsthal KAdE, Amersfoort (2021) and presented Monument der Regentessen at Hermitage Amsterdam (2020).

Neo Matloga was born in 1993 in Mamaila, Limpopo, South Africa, and is currently based between Mamaila and Amsterdam. He studied Visual Art at the University of Johannesburg and completed a residency at De Ateliers, Amsterdam, with a focus on painting. Matloga won the 2021 ABN AMRO Art award and as part of this prize presented a solo show at the Hermitage Museum, Amsterdam. Previous solo exhibitions have taken place at Stroom Den Haag, the Hague (2021); Marta Herford Museum for Art, Germany (2021) and S.M.A.K, Ghent (2021). He is the winner of the 2018 Koninklijke Prijs voor Vrije Schilderkunst.

Paulo Nazareth was born in 1977 in Governador Valadares, Brazil, and lives and works throughout the world. He studied Linguistics at Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil, and received an MFA from the institution’s Academy of Fine Arts in 2006. Working with loaded materials and motifs, he pays close attention to immigration, racialization, globalisation, colonialism, and its effects on social relations and art in Brazil and the Global South. Notable solo exhibitions include VUADORA, Pivô, São Paulo (2022); Melee, ICA Miami, (2019); and Faca Cega, Museu de Arte da Pampulha, Belo Horizonte (2018). He recently took part in Though it’s dark still I sing, the 34th São Paulo Bienal, and NIRIN, the 22nd Sydney Biennale (2020).


Penny Siopis, an Honorary Professor at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, was born in 1953 in Vryburg, South Africa, and lives in Cape Town. She has an MFA and an Honorary Doctorate from Rhodes University. Siopis works across mediums, her explorations – whether with body politics, memory, migration, or the relations between the human and non-human –characterised by her interest in what she calls the ‘poetics of vulnerability’. Recent solo exhibitions include Moving Stories and Travelling Rhythms: Penny Siopis and the many journeys of Skokiaan, National Gallery of Zimbabwe, Bulawayo (2019); This is a True Story: Six Films (1997-2017); and a survey of Siopis’ film works, Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, Cape Town (2018).

Precious Okoyomon , born in London in 1993, is a Nigerian-American artist, poet and chef. They studied at Shimer College, worked at the three-star Michelin restaurant Alinea, and live and work in New York City. Okoyomon has had institutional solo exhibitions at the MMK in Frankfurt and LUMA Westbau in Zurich, the Aspen Art Museum in Colorado, and Performance Space in New York. In 2021, they received the Frieze Artist Award and in 2022 they were named among the recipients of the Chanel Next Prize. They are featured in the main exhibition at the 59th Venice Biennale, with a large-scale immersive work titled To See The Earth Before the End of the World.

Pieter Hugo, born 1976 in Johannesburg, is a photographic artist living in Cape Town. Major institutional solo exhibitions have taken place at Rencontres d’Arles; Museu Coleção Berardo; the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg; the Hague Museum of Photography; Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne; Ludwig Museum in Budapest; Fotografiska in Stockholm; MAXXI in Rome and the Institute of Modern Art Brisbane, among others. Hugo received the Discovery Award at the Rencontres d’Arles Festival and the KLM Paul Huf Award in 2008, the Seydou Keita Award at the Rencontres de Bamako African Photography Biennial in 2011, and was shortlisted for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize in 2012. In 2015 he was shortlisted for the Prix Pictet and was chosen as the ‘In Focus’ artist for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Portia Zvavahera was born in 1985 in Harare, where she currently lives and works. She studied at the BAT Visual Arts Studio under the auspices of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe between 2003 and 2005, after which she obtained a Diploma in Visual Arts from Harare Polytechnic in 2006. She has held solo exhibitions at Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg (2014-20), and wih David Zwirner, London and New York (2019-21). She exhibited at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013 as part of the exhibition Dudziro: Interrogating the Visions of Religious Beliefs at the Zimbabwean Pavilion. In 2022 she returns to the biennale with a series of paintings forming part of the main exhibition, The Milk of Dreams, curated by Cecilia Alemani.

Rahima Gambo is a Nigerian artist born in 1986 in London, UK; she currently lives and works between London and Abuja, Nigeria. Gambo came to artistic practice from photojournalism and by working independently on trans media documentary projects. In 2020, she received the FOAM Talent of the Year award and was one of the winners of the Contemporary African Photography Award. Her work has also been shown globally, including the exhibition Have you seen the sky lately at Macaal Marrakech (2020); the 11th and 12th editions of the Rencontres de la Photographie de Bamako (2018); Beyond the Image, Bertien van Manen and Friends, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2019); and Feminine(s): visualities, actions and affections, 12th Mercosur Biennale (2020). Bird Sound Orientations1, her first solo exhibition with Stevenson, took place in 2022.


Ruth Ige, born in Nigeria in 1992, is a New Zealand-based painter whose evocative compositions oscillate between gestural figuration and painterly abstractions. Ige holds a Bachelor of Visual Arts from Auckland University of Technology. She has most recently presented Between Two Dimensions at Robert Projects, Los Angeles (2022); her previous solo exhibitions took place at City Gallery Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand and at Weasel Gallery, Hamilton, New Zealand. She presents her first solo exhibition with Stevenson in 2022.

Serge Alain Nitegeka was born in Rwanda in 1983, and lives in Johannesburg. In addition to six solo exhibitions at Stevenson, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Amsterdam (2012-22), Nitegeka has exhibited at Marianne Boesky Gallery and Boesky East in New York (2014-20); SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, Georgia (2015); and Le Manège gallery, French Institute, Dakar (2012). Nitegeka won the 2019 Grant-Award, from the Barnett and Annalee Newman Foundation; the 2018 Villa Extraordinary Award for Sculpture by the Claire & Edoardo Villa Will Trust; the 2010 Tollman Award for the Visual Arts, and in the same year was selected for the Dakar Biennale, where he won a Fondation Jean Paul Blachère prize.

Simnikiwe Buhlungu, born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1995, works in a variety of forms such including text, print, video, sonic negotiations and installation. She also engages with printed material and publications, their production and dissemination, in conversation with her practice. Buhlungu graduates from the Rijksakademie in 2022 and features in the main exhibition of the 59th Venice Biennale; she has previously participated in group exhibitions at Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, and the Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town.

Simon Gush was born in 1981 in Pietermaritzburg and lives in Johannesburg. He completed his postgraduate studies at the Hoger Instituut van Schone Kunsten in Ghent, Belgium, in 2008, and was a 2011 Fellow at the Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts, University of Cape Town. Solo shows include Simon Gush: Sala10, Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico (2020); Al final del trabajo, Ex Teresa Arte Actual, Mexico (2018); and After Work, Galerie Jette Rudolph in Berlin (2015). His films have been shown in museums and film festivals including Avant Noir, 1&2, Bozar, Brussels (2019); Avant Noir, vol 3, ICA, London (2017); Focus South Africa, Vision du Réel, Nyon (2017); International Short Film Festival, Oberhausen (2017). Gush was awarded the Jury Prize at the Bamako Encounters Biennale in 2015.

Simphiwe Ndzube was born in 1990 in Hofmeyr, Eastern Cape, and lives in Los Angeles. He has a BA Fine Art from the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town. Ndzube works across mediums, using magical realist devices to articulate chapters in his imaginative universe, named Echoes of the First Stories. Oracles of the Pink Universe, the artist’s first institutional solo exhibition in the United States, took place at the Denver Art Museum. Previous solo exhibitions have taken place at Museo Kaluz (2019); and CC Foundation, Shanghai (2018). He is the recipient of the Culture Creators ‘Innovators & Leaders’ Award in Art (2019), and the Tollman Award for Visual Art (2016).


Steven Cohen was born in 1962 in Johannesburg, South Africa, and lives in Lille, France. He is a visual and performance artist, staging interventions in the public realm as well as in gallery and theatre spaces. Cohen participated in the 11th Havana Biennale (2012) and the first Aichi Triennale in Japan (2010). Recent group exhibitions include Plus que parfaits (More than perfect), Opéra de Bordeaux, France (2020); IncarNations: African Art as Philosophy, Bozar Centre for Arts (2019); and Lignes de vies – une exposition de légendes, Musée d’Art Contemporain du Val-de-Marne (2019). He has performed extensively on the festival circuit, at prestigious venues and events.

Thami Kiti, born in 1968, Machibini, Eastern Cape, South Africa, lives in Khayelitsha. Kiti learned to carve at the Community Arts Project. In 1990 he exhibited his wooden sculptures with Mario Sickel and Ricky Dyaloyi. His skillful carvings draw on his rural upbringing and Xhosa identity, and express deep respect for the natural environment and the medium of wood itself. In 2017 he won first prize at Innibos Laeveld Nasionale Kunstefees craft competition, Mbombela, South Africa.

Thandiwe Msebenzi was born in 1991 and grew up in Nyanga, Cape Town. She received a BFA from the Michaelis School of Fine Art in 2014 and is the recipient of the Tierney Photography Fellowship Award. As a member of iQhiya, a collective of black women artists, she exhibited at the Association for Visual Artists, the KwaZulu-Natal Society of the Arts and Documenta 14. In 2016 Msebenzi was shortlisted for the ABSA L’Atelier award and completed a residency at the Cape Town School of Photography culminating in a solo exhibition titled Awundiboni. She is a 2018 Magnum Foundation Photography and Social Justice Fellow and is currently completing a Master’s Degree in Gender Studies with the University of the Western Cape.

Wura-Natasha Ogunji, born in 1970 in the United States, is a American-Nigerian artist and performer. Ogunji received a BA in anthropology from Stanford University in 1992 and a MFA in photography from San Jose State University in 1998. Ogunji has been a visiting lecturer at the Center for Art of Africa and its Diasporas (CAAD) at the University of Texas at Austin and was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship in 2012. Her work, which always pays attention to the body and its every movement, showcases the artist’s interest in physicality, endurance and body language, as well as the way bodies are allowed or required to inhabit their geographic and architectural surroundings. She exhibits in rivus, the 23rd Biennale of Sydney.



The curators thank all the artists, with their eagerness to share; the gallery staff who made their time and efforts available throughout the pandemic; and the friends and family who held the space for the conversations that made this exhibition possible.

Published on the anniversary of my whole body changed into something else 15 July – 4 September 2021 Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

© 2022 for works: the artists © 2022 for texts: the authors Catalogue 98 September 2022

Design Gabrielle Guy Photography Mario Todeschini, Nina Lieska

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