02.12 - 02.02.2024
‘I miss myself the most’ at Stevenson offered viewers a first encounter on Instagram in November 2023. The handle @_imissmyselfthemost presented meme-like image and text pairings with behind-the-scenes snaps from the exhibition. The cheeky and playful nature of the account tugged at nostalgia and desire for a real and imagined sense of self.
The concept for the show grew out of initial conversations between the show curators; Aza Mbovane and Mosa Molapo, on Saidiya Hartman’s seminal text ‘Venus in Two Acts’. The text offers a reflection on erasure as a result of the Transatlantic slave trade, particularly on the experiences of women and how narratives of enslaved people were deliberately disavowed. This sparked ideas of what it means to document and what it means to relegate to the fringes of memory. The exhibition’s central focus is the role of imagination and fantasy in memory-making, highlighting how the act of remembering is a manifestation of nostalgic desire and heartfelt longing — which at times can be blurry, calculated, defensive and politically guided. Mbovane and Molapo use the term “practice of remembrance” to imply conscious and subconscious rituals, triggers, habits and actions that activate memories and their making.
Deriving from Mahube Diseko’s work, the exhibition title, I miss myself the most, is threaded onto a pair of blue underwear, accessing the intimacy and mourning that comes with ruminations on the self and the passage of time. The lace trimming for these cotton briefs offers associations with porosity, vulnerability and the delicacy of attempting to preserve oneself.
In Diseko’s My legacy is my love, a pair of pink, white and yellow underwear set in fabric stiffener portrays the ability of malleable material to solidify. Here, the texture and feeling of memory are explored. In Motlhoki Nono’s Tiiso II, a slightly distorted view of an intimate encounter of a kiss enables the corporeal and the immaterial to be recorded and revisited. Aneesah Girie’s Spilt, made from a stiffened hijab explores the thematic thread of suspending materials, and time. Time weighs, it becomes experimental, and experiential, gaining tactility and depth. Spilt reaches out to Allyssa Herman’s installation of vinyl flooring, furniture and wallpaper, which is a reference to her grandmother’s kitchen. The work is a nostalgic evocation of family life, with the single chair and single wine glass demonstrating home as a place of isolation with possible conflictual recollections of comfort and pain.
Centred around an anthropomorphised room divider Paneng’s Ke Thlogo (with feet, a mouth and nose modelled after the artist) references the era of our parents and grandparents who would use this item for cherished objects reserved for special occasions and porcelain ornaments that needed weekly dusting. The installation extends into a garden scene, including a miniature house on a chair hung on the gallery wall. This seemingly absurd gesture points to the distortions that evolve with each attempt at recollection. Mame-Diarra Niang’s abstract portrait Morphologie du reve #3, stretches ideas around distortion. Placed on the exhibition floor, the large portrait transforms into a hazy, dreamlike gateway through which one could enter. One feels compelled to squint when staring at it, further engaging its hypnotic qualities, searching for the mystery images it mischievously implies.
‘I miss myself the most’ reflects the bleeding and slippage that occurs when trying to compartmentalise reminiscence. The assortment of experiences — through material and immaterial forms — makes the idea of a single narrative of the memory of place, in relation to self, feel impossible. In stretching the exhibition across the gallery space and Instagram, and conceptualising the opening with an afterparty, the curatorial partnership between Mbovane and Molapo permits the show to exist in an exploratory and expansive form. Their choices to activate the gallery floor and ceiling also speak to this expansive curatorial curiosity.