Axis Gallery, New York
May 17 – June 22, 2002
A group exhibition featuring the following artists:
Winnie Mandela and the Assassination of Dr. Asfat concerns South Africa’s Truth Commission hearings about Winnie Mandela’s involvement in the murder of a Soweto doctor who refused to corroborate her story about injuries sustained by her victims. Tale of Two Cradocks juxtaposes a tourist pamphlet, designed for whites exploring the town of Cradock, with oral histories and documents about local activist Mathew Goniwe, who was murdered by South African officials (the execution order is included in the work). The radically different faces of this geographical context also are reflected in equally diverse texts.
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Nemasetoni explores how identity is evidenced, documented, articulated, and erased. He is interested in African-American contributions to global culture through inventions, including industrial processes for crops that enslaved Africans worked with closely. Chewing gum is one such invention. Fantasy Passport-George Washington Carver salutes the inventor of peanut butter. Junk foods are frequently marketed to African-Americans with words from their own vernacular e.g. “Goober” for peanut butter. Ironically, products that give an instant high, with wrappers promising instant riches, contribute to diabetes, obesity, hyperactivity, and other problems. The Bible, alluded to in Fantasy Passport #1and Fantasy Passport #2, was an instrument of colonial oppression later used politically to fight for liberation. Here, hidden passages are tagged with wrappers that epitomize American commodity culture but route back to Africa.
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Langerman invents a taxonomy for everyday objects, as if they were in an anthropological display. The nine units correspond to South Africa’s post-1994 provinces. Each object is allocated a government department, and named in the 11 official languages of post-apartheid South Africa. The multiple tongues highlight the arbitrary link between signifier and signified within semiotics, which, in turn, throws into question the codes, structures, and orders of everyday life. The print medium itself, here with added objects, reproduces and distributes the codes in which objects and human subjects are embedded.
Ian Van Coller
Van Coller interrogates colonial frameworks by juxtaposing African and Western classifications of natural objects, and by juxtaposing the subjectivities of colonizers and the colonized. The photogravure works employ poisonous 19th-century techniques to reproduce the physicality of early illustrations, but the fragility of the silk paper suggests the dissolution of what they represent. In the Ricksha Boy series, the offset lithography and linoleum-cut additions closely mimic 19th-century postcards, calligraphy, and decorative colonial linoleum.
Patterson’s response to living in New York was to attempt to locate herself by returning to a memory of her African childhood: poor children playing with handmade soccer balls – a local and particular manifestation of the global craze of soccer. Patterson developed a series of sculptures in different materials that consists of 13 balls, one each for the 11 members of a soccer team and its reserve players. This work incorporates the New York context by using 4,000 pages of New York Times sports pages from the last two years.
The two works on exhibition from Murray’s Truth series, made during South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation hearings, concern memory and the relativity of truth, histories disguised or erased, and assassinations. They also evoke racial differences in access to literacy and literature. In Africa, chalk is often used during ceremonies that initiate people into higher orders of knowledge or being, whereas in literate societies this occurs via texts. In probing truth and memory, these works raise metaphysical questions of absence vs. presence. It is also from this metaphysical realm that God is summonsed to bolster political positions within global strife, as suggested in With God On Our Side.