Yamamoto Keiko Rochaix presents Still unresolved and very much ongoing, a selection of works by Delaine Le Bas (UK), Thierry Geoffroy (France/Denmark), Elsa M’bala (Cameroon/Germany), Gideon Mendel (South Africa/UK), and texts from Bakwa Magazine and its editor Dzekashu Macviban (Cameroon).
Curated by Christine Eyene, this exhibition takes on the rhetoric of the importance of art ‘now more than ever’, a discourse that gained currency on social media in the face of the crisis of humanism, to examine the relationship between the sociopolitical and aesthetics.
Drawing from the British context as point of departure, and the wave of exhibitions by Black British artists – highlighting the recurrence of the issues they addressed in the 1980s and demonstrating the continued relevance of their art to this day – this project is the result of ongoing conversations with artists who have always been alert to the fragility of democracies and concerned with the pockets of exclusions that exist in the so-called ‘Free World’.
“Still unresolved and very much ongoing” is a quote from an essay by British art historian Kobena Mercer entitled “Iconography after Identity” (2005) in which he discusses Black British art and the importance and complexities of apprehending identity-based, and by extension sociopolitically oriented art, through the prism of iconography and iconology. The exhibition title also reflects the current climate of surreal revival of past forms of prejudice and injustice thought eradicated but resurfacing like a societal necrosis.
The exhibition opens with a photograph from the Damage series (2016) by Gideon Mendel, a rare large-scale enlargement of a damaged negative of his 1980s coverage of the struggle against apartheid. The washed-out emulsion and the raised flags in this photograph of a political rally welcoming South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) leader Sam Nujoma after thirty years in exile, conjure up paintings such as Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People (1830). Also presented for the first time is Mendel’s new series Topographies (2017), documenting remnants of the forcibly evicted Calais ‘Jungle’ refugee camp. The photographed items, treading the fine line between forensics, archaeology and still life, bear testimony to lives denied their humanity by strands of Western society.
On the ground floor and downstairs, Delaine Le Bas textile-based work and meticulously embroidered pieces (2005-2008) speak from a British Romany perspective to subtly champion freedom of movement and challenge land grabbing, borders, and European identity discourses. Le Bas repurposes pieces of fabric on which she recreates her own universe, blending imaginary creatures, elements from the real world and text, in an aesthetic inspired by Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights (1490-1510).
Downstairs, Thierry Geoffroy’s Too Late series (2017) is a small selection of press cuts and drawings on ripped pieces of cardboard forming part of a larger body of work focusing on urgent global issues, their press coverage and media manipulation.
Geoffroy’s vision of art is that it should be used not only to raise awareness of sociopolitical issues, but most importantly to encourage civil society and governments to take action. The title Too Late is born out of his observation that raising awareness does not prevent catastrophes to happen. As such Geoffroy’s works are also a form of criticism of political art. As a matter of fact, it is not so much in art objects that Geoffroy’s practice manifests itself. Rather it is through various formats such as his Emergency Room, Critical Run or Slow Dance debates that are interactive and require an intense engagement from the participants. As part of this exhibition, Thierry Geoffroy will activate a Critical Run in London on Saturday July 1.
In dialogue with Geoffroy’s raw aesthetics are torn pages from a reproduction of Scions of the Malcontent (2011), a collection of poems by Cameroonian writer and editor Dzekashu Macviban, pasted on the gallery’s brick wall. Macviban’s words give a snapshot of a local sociopolitical landscape in a tone that conveys discontent, criticism but also hope.
In the final room, excerpts from the article “What Is The Anglophone Problem” by Harry Acha published on 26 December 2016 in Bakwa Magazine (edited by Macviban) refer to the troubles that followed after the English-speaking part of Cameroon decided to stand up against their marginalisation by the predominantly Francophone institutional structures.
Texts and words are complemented by two audio experiments by Elsa M’bala Imposer le Savoir (Imposing Knowledge) and Je Wanda (I wonder) (both 2017) created in response to the “Anglophone Problem” and as a commentary on the linguistic legacy of French colonisation that continues to affect Cameroon and, in a large part, Africa’s structural systems today.
Still unresolved and very much ongoing
Friday 9 June – Saturday 5 Aug 2017
Private view and opening reception: Thursday 8 June 2017, 6pm
This exhibition is part of the Whitechapel Gallery’s First Thursdays Art Bus Tour, Thur 3rd Aug 2017. See here for more details.
Yamamoto Keiko Rochaix
19 Goulston Street
London E1 7TP
+44 20 7247 1167
Open: Wednesday – Saturday, 11am – 6pm
Cover image: Gideon Mendel, from the Damage series (2016). Rally welcoming SWAPO leader, Sam Nujoma after thirty years exile. Windhoek, Namibia, September 24, 1989. Digital print from water and mould-damaged negative on paper, 100×170.20cm. Courtesy: the artist and Axis Gallery, NY & NJ.
Exhibition views. Click on any image to view as a photo gallery.