This exhibition takes its title from artist Otobong Nkanga’s performance piece Diaoptasia, presented at Tate Modern, London, in 2015. Instead of departing from a theme, the exhibition’s foundations are laid from a selection of works on paper by Nkanga, which provided ground for other artists’ works to address the need to challenge Eurocentric historical narratives.
Nkanga’s prints from the series Social Consequences engage with a number of issues through graphically sparse depictions of human bodies and natural resources caught in dystopian entanglements. Her work originates in the observation of stone and minerals to shed light on the contradictions of wealth-producing economies and their restrictive access to gains. Drawing eloquent parallels between minerals and language, Nkanga’s works depict humans that appear to be connected by tools through processes of fracturing, cutting and carving out, evoking language’s constant metamorphosis. Moreover, her analysis of minerals as a metonymy for society shows us that we are made of a great variety of elements that react to pressure, heat and other physical forces.
This exhibition encompasses works by international and local artists dealing with a number of poignant subjects in an attempt to shed light over the multiple manifestations of our contemporary ills as seen from the geopolitical South. Their insightful works remind us how the emergence of imperial capitalism in the early 16th century led the way to the relentless extraction of raw materials that has continued to the present day. They signal how such intense exploration of natural resources has unleashed what we have come to acknowledge as a migration and climate emergency, generating perpetual economic and human crises whose substrate all but hide the colonial wounds inflicted in the past.
In the same manner that dominant narratives have instigated a partial reading of human history to build a canonical version of reality, it can also be argued that the history of art is biased. Since the idea of Modernity was coined, ways of thinking about high and low art have been largely determined by historical conditioning grounded in a binary model of conquerors and oppressed; educated and unqualified; masters and slaves; powerful and disenfranchised; explorers and providers; civilised and primitive.
By bringing to Aotearoa works from all corners of the world, the exhibiting artists invite us to share in numerous knowledge systems and histories which, as light emanating from their eyes, can help illuminate our path.
From where I stand... Roomsheet