16.02 - 18.02.2024
Leading up to the 11th edition of the Investec Cape Town Art Fair (16- 18 February 2024), Artthrob embarked on a series of interviews delving into the conceptual underpinnings of various presentations at the fair. The second instalment features a discussion with Hoosein Mahomed of CHURCH.
In his presentation, Mahomed transforms CHURCH’s booth into a symbolic church, enclosed with a golden outer wall. Beyond its namesake, Mahomed seeks to evoke a deeper connection to the Black Imagination and collective experiences. The booth serves as a reflection of the current global landscape, where the Black body often faces dehumanization and marginalization.
Your booth at the Investec Cape Town Art Fair is a church. Beyond the obvious connection to the name of your project space, can you tell us what you are hoping to achieve conceptually with this booth?
Hoosein Mahomed: I am primarily interested in the Black Imagination, in the exploration of our individual and collective thoughts, feelings, emotions, and lived experiences. I am particularly intrigued by black benevolence and black reverence.
In considering and contemplating the current state of the world and the continued devastation experienced by the black body, I wanted the booth to be reflective of this moment. I see it as reflecting the collective ‘us’.
We live in a world where human rights and dignity seem to fall short when it relates to blackness. We have witnessed the ease at which we can be dehumanized and ‘othered’ and in doing so humiliated, decimated and forced to the periphery. I wanted to honour the generations that came before us, those that paved the way for us when there was no word to describe the shattering of our communities and their dispossession. The term ‘genocide’ was only coined in 1948 when in fact genocidal behaviour existed and was perpetuated in our communities for centuries. We are the children of indigenous people, we are the children of the enslaved. Despite unimaginable suffering, we are rising and have risen, our best days are now and ahead of us.
The booth will highlight the overlap of oppression across communities, speaking to the shared pain and sorrow as well as the collective joy that one encounters despite the devastation.
You will be presenting Berni Searle, Warren Maroon and Alka Dass at the fair. Can you tell us what conversation this pairing produces or encourages?
HM: Berni Searle will be presenting work from her Lament Series. Warren Maroon will present new neon and lace works. Alka Dass will present her new cyanotypes with embellishments, which form part of her large-scale installation, ‘The million petaled flower of when you were here’, showcasing at our space on Church Street.
As Black artists, their practices are deeply personal and political —black life, black love, black fragility, and black strength are intrinsically linked to their works, which explore politics of physicality, land, enslavement, marginalisation and the possibility for freedom.
Berni is in conversation with Alka and Warren through an intergenerational dialogue. She has a long history of art making and working in academia and her work is articulated in and through time. The Lament Series, in particular, concerns the devastation inflicted on the Congolese people by Belgian colonialists under Leopold II. Under the guise of Christianity, over 10 million Congolese people were massacred, mutilated and their lands plundered. Berni’s gilded and delicate hands allude to forcibly severed limbs.
Furthermore, in the series, Berni covers herself in black lace emulating the Virgin Mary or a veiled Muslim woman. The positioning is seemingly of modesty — to remain hidden, unseen or deliberately obscured.
Berni’s photographs of vulnerability, violence and beauty form the foundation of CHURCH’s presentation at the Fair. Her relationship with CHURCH has been one of unwavering support from inception where she offered an inaugural speech to open the doors of CHURCH in the summer of October 2021. Berni has continued to believe in CHURCH’s ethos of providing a platform, especially to young and emerging black artists as CHURCH continues to explore the Black Imagination.
Alka’s work, on the other hand, references the indentured Indian slaves brought from Colonial India to KwaZulu Natal on South Africa’s Eastern Coastline. The work explores myth, memory, trauma and identity through the lens of belonging and migration.
Warren is of course no stranger to CHURCH having presented his first solo exhibition titled ‘Reverence’ in September 2022. The lace in the Warren works references the lace in Berni’s Lament photographs as well as the veil coverings within Alka’s cyanotypes. The impact of religion, more particularly Christianity becomes a recurring theme within the works.
We just witnessed a very successful retrospective of Berni Searle’s practice at Norval Foundation, ‘Having but little Gold’. Is there a conversation between that exhibition and the work we will be seeing at the fair?
HM: ‘Having but Little Gold’ was undoubtedly one of the most moving and thought-provoking retrospectives in recent memory.
I do not see this exhibition, which was a much larger and deeply complex positioning of Berni’s overall practice, as reading per se into what CHURCH is presenting at the fair. I think Berni is once again showing her magnanimity to CHURCH and positioning herself as a beacon to younger artists who continue to move through a myriad of possibilities and obstacles.
You have worked with Warren Maroon before (at different fairs and through his solo exhibition, ‘Reverence’). How did the relationship with Alka and Berni develop?
HM: Last year, I saw a work which I presumed was made by the artist Kamyar Bineshtarigh. As a collector of contemporary art, when I saw it, I wanted to buy this work. I was advised that it was not for sale as it was a collaboration between Kamyar and an artist named Alka Dass. I immediately started researching her practice. I knew instantly that she was someone I would like to work with. She has a certain quality — a warmth, a genuineness, a beauty. I offered her a solo exhibition at CHURCH to allow her to experiment within the space. Because this solo exhibition was happening simultaneously with the Investec Cape Town Art Fair, I felt it would naturally make sense to present her work at the fair too.
When it comes to Berni, not only is she a legend in the contemporary art world, but she is also a close friend — our intimate conversations have led to deeply reflective collaboration, engagement and unimaginable possibilities.
I’m interested in how CHURCH has the potential to be a space of “in-betweenness” – or what Homi Bhabha might consider “a third space” – fulfilling roles that institutions or galleries are unable to fulfil. What is your response to this? Does it ring true?
HM: Homi Bhabha’s concept of a third space is quite apposite to CHURCH. In imagining CHURCH as a concept, I wanted to present a model that made sense to me. A model that adequately expressed my excitement about contemporary art and its presentation. How does a space, despite its diminutive size have the ability to be a shapeshifter, to be neither this nor that? As Bhabha intimated, this is an idea of hybridization designed through multiculturalism.
CHURCH has continued to bring new voices who are not part of the gallery system in terms of official representation and/or would not necessarily be shown at commercial art fairs, thus placing them within the realm and visibility of a broader and discerning art audience.
Your model for CHURCH differs from a traditional gallery model of representation, can you tell us about some of the key differences between what you believe CHURCH offers artists? And why you choose to be present at the fair.
HM: I think CHURCH’s model is vastly different from commercial galleries. It remains largely indifferent to the commercial element of art. If one’s primary focus is commerciality, this oftentimes becomes obstructive to creativity. CHURCH chooses to work with artists it feels an affinity toward, artists that fit into the CHURCH vision or in some way enhance it.
I believe that CHURCH can be a springboard for artists and curators. It allows artists to present their work, which is often experimental, to a wider audience. It is really about providing a platform for exposure and visibility to develop their practice further.
I opted to present at the Investec Cape Town Fair with the clear intent to make audiences feel like they may actually be at CHURCH’s physical space. The entire booth has been enclosed, the outer wall painted gold, therefore it should be quite a transformative experience.
Works on the booth will be for sale mainly to cover the costs associated with participating in a commercial fair.
CHURCH will continue to show various emerging artists in its physical space while simultaneously working with specific artists on an annual basis for its local and international art fair programme.