In Context: this past was waiting for me
From August 30 till September 29, 2018, Goodman Gallery will present In Context: this past was waiting for me, a group exhibition by leading contemporary artists, Ghada Amer, Yto Barrada, Lisa Brice, Nolan Oswald Dennis, Regina José Galindo, Yuki Kihara, Grada Kilomba, Wangechi Mutu, Misheck Masamvu, Shirin Neshat, Mickalene Thomas, Naama Tsabar, Kara Walker and Carrie Mae Weems.
Curated by Liza Essers and Emma Laurence, the exhibition takes its cue from contemporary women artists – hailing from America, Guatemala, Egypt, Iran, Morocco, Kenya and Samoa (many with ancestral roots in Africa) – united by an ambition to unfurl suppressed stories.
This is the third iteration of In Context, an ongoing curatorial initiative started by Liza Essers in 2010 in response to South Africa hosting the World Cup and temporarily becoming ‘home’ to the world. This sparked reflection on the complex dynamics of home, which artists like Kara Walker, Yinka Shonibare and Candice Breitz addressed in work dealing with slave narratives, structures of power and institutionalised racism. These themes extended to the second iteration of In Context, titled Africans in America(2016), which was curated by Hank Willis Thomas and spoke to the flows, exchanges and continuities between the continent of Africa and the United States. ‘The project was envisioned as a way of adding to the representation of South Africa, broadening the narrative and taking note of voices from surprising quarters,’ says Essers.
this past was waiting for me continues to mine tensions of place and the body, bringing narratives and identities into focus which have been obscured by history. In reference to colonialism, Grada Kilomba describes this complex interplay between the past and present as ‘a wound that has never been properly treated – an infected wound that always hurts and sometimes bleeds’.
Addressing this ‘wound’ requires acknowledging its existence. Yto Barrada, Wangechi Mutu, Shirin Neshat, Mickalene Thomas, Kara Walker and Carrie Mae Weems, among others, unpack the complex historical dynamics that have come to dictate the ways in which lives are valued and bodies are controlled. The reflection prompted by this work creates a liberating but charged space for transformation – a concept contained in the word ‘waiting’ in the exhibition’s title, which conjures current frustrations around the lack of urgency for social change in South Africa and internationally, giving way to Fallism, Brexit and the rise of Trump. The title of the show, this past was waiting for me is from a Lucille Clifton poem, which speaks to the exhibition’s concerns to revisit and re-construe hidden histories and identities, stating:
I am accused of tending to the past
as if I made it,
as if I sculpted it
with my own hands. I did not.
this past was waiting for me
when I came,
a monstrous unnamed baby,
and I with my mother’s itch
took it to breast
and named it
Artists like Naama Tsabar and Yuki Kihara channel this transformative potential through their work. Using sound and sculpture, Tsabar envisions a utopian world in which attentiveness, passion and solidarity outweigh dominance and discrimination. In Kihara’s film work a reference to the Polynesian demigod of transformation, Maui, embodies the redemptive ability of art to transcend suffering – an ideal that defines the essence of this exhibition.
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