Dan Halter: Patience Can Cook a Stone
From February 16 to March 30, 2018, WHATIFTHEWORLD will present Patience Can Cook a Stone, a solo exhibition of recent works by Zimbabwean artist Dan Halter.
The title of the exhibition Patience Can Cook a Stone finds its source in a Fulfulde proverb (Munyal deefan hayre), which advises that even the most seemingly insurmountable problems can be overcome with patience and endurance. This becomes a theme that the artist plays-out in a number of different ways throughout this body of work.
Perhaps the most striking example of this is Halter’s arrangement of five engraved baby teeth placed inside a stokie slipper. Entitled The Revenge of 400 Years is Losing its Baby Teeth, the work adapts an Italian proverb – a hundred-year-old revenge still has its baby teeth – to suggest that the historical mistreatment of Africans through slavery and colonialism is finally starting to be addressed seriously. In employing ‘tooth fairy’ motifs, the work also refers to the necessity of redress, the complexities of which are picked up by many other pieces in the exhibition.
Tombstones serve as another recurring metaphor for the transience (however gradual) of particular periods of unrest. Where All Problems End / Mupedzanhamo depicts a tombstone for Rhodesia, bookended with the two weapons that encompass the birth and death of the colonial state. Birth is represented by the Maxim gun (the weapon of choice for British imperial conquest), while death is embodied by an AK-47, a testament to the guerrilla warfare that led to Zimbabwean independence. Other references to tombstones include rubbings from the gravesites of Cecil John Rhodes and Chenjerai “Hitler” Hunzvi, the self-proclaimed ‘biggest terrorist in Zimbabwe’.
More so than previous exhibitions, there is an overarching thread of violence which snakes through ‘Patience Can Cook a Stone’. To an extent, this has always existed in Halter’s work through his unpacking of ideas of displacement, xenophobia, Zimbabwe’s colonial history, and the country’s subsequent socio-economic and political crisis, but it is more pronounced and specific in the newer works. In venturing down this thematic path, Halter has by no means abandoned the shrewd interplay between materials and signification for which he is recognised; he has merely channelled it through a slightly darker bent.
For instance, Heidi und Heinz in Afrika and 26 Chaplin Road Blaudruck are two stylised shweshwe cloths produced while Dan Halter was on a residency in Germany with CAT Cologne in 2017. Directly engaging with the particular history of blaudruck /shweshwe fabric (brought to southern Africa by German and Swiss settlers in the 19th century and subsequently adopted by many South African cultures in idiosyncratic ways) Halter used the fabric as a means of examining a particularly brutal attack on his parents (the titular Heidi and Heinz) in their home in Zimbabwe. The works were produced in Einbeck at the oldest factory in Europe still producing blaudruck (founded in 1638).
Here, the works were conceived and largely concluded prior to the recent political shakeup in Zimbabwe which saw Robert Mugabe ousted from power after 37 years in November 2017. Many of the works explicitly capture the cumulative sense of dread, hopelessness and stoicism experienced by the people of Zimbabwe in the wake of the agricultural collapse, hyperinflation and the metaphorical sense of being ‘trapped in a burning building’ (Kuwona Hutsi). Amidst these works, the tombstone The Clothes of The Dead White Man / obroni wawu bears an unexpectedly prescient epitaph etched upon its black granite: The day the old man disappears is when the hyena shits grey hair.
Dan Halter’s artistic practice is informed by his position as a Zimbabwean living in South Africa. Using materials ubiquitous to South Africa and Zimbabwe Halter employs the language of craft and curio as a visual strategy to articulate his concerns within a fine art context. Through this, as well as through photography and video, Halter addresses notions of a dislocated national identity and the politics of post-colonial Zimbabwe within a broader African context.
Dan Halter was born in Zimbabwe in 1977 and has participated in numerous group shows including US at the South African National Gallery, curated by Simon Njami, Zeitgenössiche Fotokunst aus Südafrika at the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (NBK), 2009 Havana Biennale and Earth Matters at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington DC. He has completed four international residencies, in Zürich, Rio de Janeiro, Scotland and Turin. Recent exhibitions include the 7th Triennial of Contemporary Textile Arts of Tournai, Belgium and Dan Halter / Mappa Del Mondo at the Nassauischer Kunstverein in Wiesbaden Germany.
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