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South African painter Johannes Phokela’s new exhibition opens at Zeitz MOCAA

A new exhibition by South African painter Johannes Phokela opened at The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) last week. The exhibition, titled Only the Sun in the Sky Knows How I Feel: A Lucid Dream, marks nearly a decade since Phokela’s last institutional show and includes a select survey of his oeuvre from the last three decades. The exhibition also includes new large-scale works produced for the exhibition, and an installation of archival material encompassing books, letters, photographs, visual references, and drawings that provide insight into the artist’s process and practice. 

Johannes Phokela painting exhibition Zeitz MOCAA
Johannes Phokela painting exhibition Zeitz MOCAA

Organised around Phokela’s obsessive engagement with pictures, the exhibition posits the artist as a painter of significance in both an African and international context. His concerns with pictorial traditions and images are used as tools to explore and critique social mores and corrupt value systems in the aftermath of empire.

‘Phokela’s vision is of a world history drenched in the spoils of violence,’ explains Senior Curator Storm Janse van Rensburg, who co-curated the exhibition alongside the museum’s Executive Director and Chief Curator Koyo Kouoh, with assistance by Curatorial Assistant Beata America. ‘His sardonic and, at times, nihilistic take on current affairs and the state of things holds a mirror up to us. Despite lushly painted surfaces and allegory, Phokela’s medium is not the message; his painting is a subversive tool in an intellectually rigorous practice that provokes the viewer.’

Raised in Soweto during the 70s and 80s, Phokela pursued further studies in London from 1987, culminating in a master’s degree from the Royal College of Art in 1993. He has since established an illustrious career punctuated by major exhibitions, awards and residencies to critical acclaim.

Adds Kouoh: ‘It is an important moment for us to consider Johannes Phokela’s decades-long contribution to the artistic vocabulary of the continent. His searing, visual talent makes palpable the contradictions and ironies of our moment. We celebrate Phokela and his unrelenting commitment and intellectual engagement with his subject matter. He inscribes our history into the timeline of the world in an uncompromising manner.’

Johannes Phokela painting exhibition Zeitz MOCAA

Johannes Phokela’s Only the Sun in the Sky Knows How I Feel: A Lucid Dream opened to the public on Thursday 28 October on Level 1, Zeitz MOCAA

Johannes Phokela painting exhibition Zeitz MOCAA

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