A Black Aesthetic: A View of South African Artists (1970-1990) was an exhibition in the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg. The presentation was curated by Dr Same Mdluli and was praised and criticized. Mdluli deceided to react on the critique she got. For Athi Mongezeleli Joja it was necessary to respond.
Author: Athi Mongezeleli Joja
Is the art critic an endangered species? Is he a mystical figure dubbed a critic? Is he white writing on blacks? Critic Athi Mongezeleli Joja is looking for answers.
Photo: Athi Mongezeleli Joja
“The historical definitely has much to teach us today, in fact sometimes far more than the contemporary”, says art critic Athi Mongezeleli Joja. A recent exhibition of the Johannesburg Art Gallery – All Your Faves Are Problematic – proves that using history not always works out in the way he has in mind. “Most of the work shown in the exhibit coalesces around the voyeuristic and primitivistic impulse of the white artist, which over the last century has constructed black bodies as objects of anthropological and artistic fascination.“
Poster image of the exhibition
A little reminiscent of the early 1990s Steve Hilton-Barber controversy following the white photographer’s unseemly pictures of naked Sotho initiates (largely an inaccessible site) aroused unflinching backlash from black theatre audiences. Hilton-Barber’s pictures not only instantiated a debased pornotropic and ethnographic palate prevalent in colonial photographic practice but, rather less memorable than the representativity of the disrobed native body, was the fact that Hilton-Barber’s access to the “sacred” site and exposed body of initiates was precisely due to the fact that his family owned those rolling mountains where black rituals were actualized.
Athi Mongezeleli on land politics in South Africa
The Landless People’s Movement outside the Constitutional Court, 14 May 2009 (photographer unknown)
For his work Gravitas the African American artist Hank Willis Thomas used a photo of South African photographer Graeme Williams. He turned the orginal work into a black and white photo highlighting the image of the children outside the context of the militairy patrol on the bus in the original photo. Williams got furious and called Thomas a thief, Thomas called for reflection but, in the end, removed the work from the fair where it was presented. Stealing or appropriating? A crime or just a commentary?