By: Kelvin Haizel
Not long ago during the Asiko programme I gave a 5minute presentation on an artist from South Africa named Dineo Seshee Bopape’s work titled” Kgoro ya go tŠwa: even if you fall from a circle”. Present in the room was Bisi Silva and Gabriela Salgado as curators, as well as Nontsikelelo Mutiti and Mimi Chereno as facilitators.
Earlier that morning I had given a rushed presentation of my own practice and couldn’t afford to repeat the same – especially with an incredible artist as Bopape.
I was drawn to her work almost immediately when I first looked at her installations. After I was convinced of the aesthetic strength of her installation piece titled “Growing everyday” my heightened curiosity lead me to investigate what her thought processes were. Thankfully her artist statement led me right into her head.
“I collect stories, events, moments, feelings, by themselves or in interaction with both animate and inanimate objects…Assembling all these objects and stories becomes an attempt to impose order on chaotic or nonsensical objects/stories…”
(Text references her artist statement, 2005)
The very things I have struggled so hard to suppress under the guise of wanting to sound intellectual by ‘chewing’ all these philosophical texts which I could barely comprehend.
I have always wanted to tell personal narratives through my work, but often felt compelled to think of the impact of my work in some “grand narrative” that fits in the global art discussion. Contributing to the larger discourse; blah, blah, blaaah! The work I produced until now was informed by the idea of being part of the global discourse.
Reflecting on some real talk with Nontsikelelo and Mimi, I have begun the journey back to personal narratives informed by my experiences growing up in Achimota (a suburb in Accra) with my family. Back to the narratives I once shied away from. Looking at Bopape’s other works I was completely in awe by the installation titled Kgoro ya go tšwa: even if you fall from a circle (Cape Town, 2013). The range of materials she explored told of her father’s condition, Alzheimers, a condition that causes memory loss. She wrote, “memory loss, inspired by how my father’s brain works…” “a disease/condition that kind of eats at one’s brain and memory.. things are forgotten, people, objects, language… the ways in which things relate- in language, in time… everything collapses.”
The installation consists of various materials including videos, fabric, plastic clamps, cable clip, fabric, metal hooks, plastic ring, cable clips, embroidered fabric, postcard stand, emergency blanket, three televisions, two speakers, dvd player, dvds and the list goes on and on.
Observing the images from the exhibition I felt the work had a forced coherence of thoughts; looking at the juxtaposition of the myriad elements. One may have left the gallery feeling they’ve been toyed with. But this is the strength of articulating incoherence coherently. It speaks of fragmented memory. It speaks of disjointed thoughts. It speaks of vulnerability. It speaks to a specific kind of relationship; that which requires patience, time, effort, genuine giving and receiving. And this is what I share with my dad too.
My dad is over 80 years old; he loves to play checkers and oware. He and I have an exceptionally intimate father-son relationship. Every morning at dawn he gives me a call, and again in the evening before he goes to bed. He’s lived with the effects of a stroke for nearly 20 years. We are the best of friends and as all friends do, we have our moments. He’s told me the story of Raya; his Russian girlfriend he left without saying goodbye to. He still speaks of her as the most beautiful woman. I believe he wants to know what became of her. Raya is the name he gave to his first daughter, his hotel is also named the same. He has also told me how he couldn’t return to Raya because his mother had been struck with illness.
I am intrigued about Raya. About what her relationship with my father was. How she made him feel, why she was important. From the black and white pictures he still has of her, her beauty is only comparable to my dad’s description of her. Is she still out there? Does she have fond memories of him? Or maybe she is distraught by his sudden disappearance…?
I can relate to Bopape’s work, her thoughts, and intimacy with the subject. It is present. The truth in her work feels tangible; you can even touch it if you wanted to. We think too rational of ourselves. Everything should make sense. It’s formulaic. Forgetting that these fragmented narratives are integral part of our existential reality[ies]. Maybe I don’t have to make sense after all; and that’s ok. My work doesn’t have to oppose ‘religion’, and that’s ok. I can continue to read for pleasure and in-depth when researching a subject of interest. Leave the grand narratives. I don’t need to read Karl Marx, Derrida, Lacan, Foucault, Nietzche… before making work, and that’s also ok.
Asiko, Maputo, being sensitive, touching truth, articulating incoherence coherently.