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Questioning history and heritage through notions of the other

An in-depth exploration of a sense of otherness – identified through multiple and differing perspectives on history and heritage – sets the tone of Absa Gallery’s Our contemporary needs and the other exhibition, which runs from 23 June to 19 July 2019.

Absa Art Gallery South Africa heritage
Asanda Kupa, Bazinqikele Ilitye Elinembovane eGomora, 2019

History and heritage are fluid concepts, based very much on an individual’s unique set of circumstances and the lens through which they see the world. Exploring the world through a certain lens invites the individual to understand and interpret reality in their own way – one of the key consequences of this is a constant creation of ‘the other’ in response to one’s perceived reality. This ‘otherness’ encompasses a range of issues surrounding history and heritage, particularly around the displacement and migration of people typically found on the periphery and within the margins of society.
     ‘The exhibition will showcase the work of young Pan-African artists who have experienced life on the periphery of society and have intimate knowledge of the issues of representation surrounding their history and heritage,’ explains Thabo Seshoka, Specialist: Art Curator at Absa Gallery. ‘It will specifically examine how they have questioned that reality and those notions of history and heritage through a selection of both modern and contemporary works.’
     These young artists are: Asanda Kupa, Michael Selekane, Nelly Guambe, Solomon Omogboye, Patrick Seruwu and Vincent Osemwegie, whose new works will be in conversation with a selection of artworks from the Absa Corporate Art Collection, by artists such as Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi, Pat Mautloa, Benon Lutaaya, Penny Siopis, Irma Stern, Maggie Laubser, JH Pierneef, François Krige and Maurice van Essche.

Absa Art Gallery South Africa heritage
Patrick Seruwu

     Each of their bodies of work will critically examine the complexities that exist regarding the notion of otherness, both in terms of identity and difference. It also offers an opportunity for the artists to reclaim their sovereignty by carving out spaces in which they can negotiate freedom, equity and dignity on their own terms.
     Asanda Kupa’s works in both acrylic and charcoal, for example, depict the chaos and energy that is the reality for many poor black South Africans – that is, a life that is defined by struggle and a lack of access to basic resources such as water and food.
     ‘My work is concerned with how the new political regime has failed the very people who brought it to power through their own sacrifice – while also celebrating the self-determining spirit that marks a long history of civic action. Protest, spurred by grassroots community frustration, is the central theme of this work,’ Kupa notes.
     Overall, the raw and incisive work captures important periods in South Africa’s political history and reflects the depth and breadth of hope, hopelessness and popular protest.
     Michael Selekane’s body of work Migrations, on the other hand, uses silkscreen prints to act as a personal narrative and visual recording of his own journey and of everyday life.
     ‘I am influenced by my sense of being an outcast in society and my displacement from my home in Mpumalanga. The artworks represent the distance I feel between Uitvlag and Pretoria, my current place of residence,’ he says. ‘My new series of works begins to unpack issues of migration. The focus of these artworks deals with movement: the movement patterns of migration, the consequences of these patterns and the modes of transportation that result in these movements.’

Absa Art Gallery South Africa heritage
Michael Selekane, Pheonix

     Selekane, in particular, looks to location and environment as influencing factors in migration, specifically in terms of the flow of people from rural to urban environments in search of work. His work depicts the social and political issues that make up a modern day, democratic South Africa, where equality and its associated benefits were broadly promised but are still in many cases failing to be delivered.
     Very much part of this conversation and included in Selekane’s work is dealing with issues of social exclusion and how communities discriminate and ‘other’ their own members because of factors such as financial status, illness or lifestyle choices.
     A unifying thread that connects all the bodies of work under the umbrella of Our contemporary needs and the other exhibition is the exploration and representation of the vulnerability of the other.
     The exhibition as a whole seeks to balance the challenges the marginalised face in carving out spaces of freedom, equity and dignity for themselves against the representations and interpretations that have emerged over the years – ultimately looking at how these interpretations can be used to shape the future.

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