26.07 - 27.09.2021
We forget we are all living in a ghetto, even if we don’t pay rent and every day is a Sunday.1‘At Daggers Drawn with the Existent, its Defenders and its False Critics,’ written anonymously for The Anarchist Library.
The anonymous writer of the words above brings our attention to the making of the ghetto as a consequence of displacement and concentration of populations according to specific control. This sense of displacement goes far beyond the physical enclosures that succeed the plantation, the reserves and the prisons, reaching towards a psychological and spiritual unhoming. The problem of finding a home, in all its shapes and forms, continues to haunt.
The group exhibition, ‘I have made a place,’ curated by Khanya Mashabela at the Norval Foundation, explores the processes through which we make a place for ourselves, physically and psychologically. The exhibition draws attention to different ways in which particular locations can function as either sites of affirmation or alienation. Through a constellation of paintings, video and installation, ‘I have made a place’ makes visible the complexities of defining, occupying, or even feeling a place as home. In her essay, ‘Reflections on Home in – motion,’ Thuli Gamedze proposes that home can exist as an internal composition of associations, as fractured memories, and as the location of the familiar in the unfamiliar. This working theory is instructive in the context of artists in this exhibition. Whether it’s porcelain dogs, suitcases, soil and grass in wa Lehulere’s reddening of the greens or dog sleep manifesto (2015), red ochre in Bronwyn Katz’s Grond Herinnering (2015) or a looping line in Gerda Scheepers’ painting, I have made a place (2020), objects and fractured memory gesture towards a desire for a kind of homing.
During his days as an art critic, Donald Judd once wrote that ‘space is so unknown that any discussion of it would have to begin with a rock.’ Often, the surface of the earth and its relationship to things around it reveals the philosophical, political and economic systems of its occupants. In the works of Adams (Uitsug, 2018) and Langa (Untitled [Red Mountain], 2002), such systems are blurred. The reorganisation of space, through arrangement of colour and shapes, makes it possible to imagine new relationships with our surroundings. The effects of organic forms melting towards each other only gently signal to the formation of landscape. Similarly to Mgudlandlu, Adams’ outlook takes a panoramic perspective and, from the bird’s eye view, carefully placed threads result in a rhythmic visual tempo.
Painted in bright blue, green and orange (often found in her landscapes), Mgudlandlu’s paintings represent an unnatural view of the landscape. Writing on Mgudlandlu’s life and work, Elza Miles draws attention to her use of colours as indicative of sacred and protective power evoked by her childhood memories in rural Eastern Cape. Noting further, she writes, ‘Mgudlandlu called the Nyanga and Gugulethu houses that recurred in the paintings pondokkies (shanties). She said that she loved pondokkies and spent many years living in them.’
When read side by side, Mgudlandlu’s works offer interesting contrasts and parallels between two landscapes. One is specific and named (Nyanga landscape, 1962), pointing to a sense of intimacy; the second indistinct and imprecise (Suburbs with table mountain, 1964), pointing to unfamiliarity. Here, to name territory is to claim ownership of it. Of course, distinctions made in these works reflect the aftermath of segregationist lawmaking that ensured the comfort could exist a breath away from catastrophe. Despite the fact that the works were made in the early 60s, the land remembers, and legacies continue. A desecrated church continues to be the house of God, and the prison cell continues to tell tales of incarceration.
Capitalism continuously returns us to the ghettos it creates for us (even if we don’t pay rent and every day is a Sunday). Gottgens’ Another Debt (2017) is a subtle critique of capitalism’s demands on forms of homemaking. First exhibited in her solo exhibition at SMAC, titled ‘Tired from Smiling,’ the painting uses suburban imagery to point to middle-class anxiety and ennui. Giving context to the work in the exhibition text, Ashraf Jamal notes the suburban malaise, economic stasis, and an impending sense of dread that point to the simultaneous trappings and failings of capitalism.
The question of place puts the whole organisation of society into question. It is impossible to speak of space, real or imagined, without acknowledging dispossession. Even in the land of dreams, injustices linger, because we can only dream and desire on the basis of what we know. Through pacing, looping and mirroring, Katz considers dispossession through a reflection of the place where she comes from. In four minutes, we’re transported from here (wherever here is for us) to Kimberley, where she recalls home through soil, childhood games, and stories about her grandmother.
In the closing pages of A Small Place, novelist Jamaica Kincaid writes about the impossibility of a utopia, questioning what the effects of living in paradise might do to its inhabitants. She writes, ‘Antigua is beautiful. Antigua is too beautiful. Sometimes the beauty of it seems unreal. Sometimes the beauty of it seems as if it were stage sets for a play, for no real sunset could look like that; no real seawater could strike that many shades of blue at once.’ Elaborating further: ‘All of this is so beautiful, all of this is not really like any other real thing that there is. It is as if, then, the beauty … were a prison, and as if everything and everybody inside it were locked in and everything and everybody that is not inside was locked out.’ Anyone who has made a home (or attempted to) in Cape Town knows of this beauty, this prison that keeps everybody inside in and everybody that is not inside locked out. In Cape Town, home does not give itself to all. Exhibitions can not come up with all the answers on their own. ‘I have made a place’ asks important questions, but we must also ask important questions of it and about it. Located at one of the most beautiful square miles in Cape Town (which happens to be in close proximity with the Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison) we ought to question how home is made for various artists, art workers and audiences who engage with the institution. In this context, what is the relationship between belonging, safety, beauty and prisons?