South African artist Kemang Wa Lehulere shows history is never really black and white

South African artist Kemang Wa Lehulere shows history is never really black and white

Marian Goodman Gallery has kicked off its 2018-2019 season with an inaugural presentation by draughtsman, performance artist and sculptor Kemang Wa Lehulere at its London outpost. The Cape-town native initially rose to prominence in 2006 with Gugulective, an artist-led, community-engaged collective co-founded with childhood artistic associate, Unathi Sigenu and is rapidly emerging as one of South Africa’s most prominent artistic exports.

Last year he scooped both Deutsche Bank’s Artist of the Year honour and the Malcolm McLaren Award at Performa 17 in New York, exposure that piqued the interest of Marian Goodman Gallery. Drawing on years of social activism, the artist confronts themes of post-apartheid unrest and broader socio-politics by recounting and re-enacting what he deems to be ‘deleted scenes’ from South African history.

The show – titled ‘not even the departed stay grounded’ – features both new works and reworked strands lifted from the multi-element Performa commission, I cut my skin to liberate the splinter, comprising messages-in-bottles, imposing sphinx-like ceramic dogs and bird houses indicating the prevalence of forced removals under apartheid. The exhibition sees an expansion of new imagery with large chalk wall drawings and objects bound and suspended by shoelaces spanning floor to ceiling.

The artist will present a partial reiteration of his now distinctive salvaged classroom desk and chair construction, defaced and riddled with generations of juvenile inscriptions – personal initials and crude carvings of genitalia – exuding themes of collective revolt and a poignant narration of the 1976 student uprising. ‘The works are not as huge and complex as my previous installations. I want to simplify and distil ideas I have been thinking through,’ the artist tells Wallpaper*.

‘Wa Lehulere’s exhibitions and performances are spaces for working out ideas’ says School of the Art Institute of Chicago professor Delinda Collier, ‘not allowing something to be fixed into a static representation is very much at the heart of all he does.’ Visitors to the exhibition will be encouraged to donate books to be passed on to Wa Lehulere’s forthcoming library project in Gugulethu. §

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