Home Strange Home
11 June - 24 September 2022
WHATIFTHEWORLD is pleased to present Home Strange Home, a group exhibition curated by Reservoir Projects and hosted at the Twee Jonge Gezellen Farm in Tulbagh.
Home Strange Home is an exhibition about entanglement. For most of us, ‘Home’ is not a simple concept – rather, it is a complex network of memories and experiences, allegiances and rejections, damage and repair, belonging and reinvention. Bringing together the works of eight contemporary artists, the exhibition looks at ‘stranging’ the home and its associations, by reconstructing rituals and identity to offer a new subjecthood to familiar objects and engage the meanings encoded in materials.
Suggestive of a house and its interior signifiers, the exhibition layout opens with Wezile Harmans’s We regret to inform you (2022). Like a postbox just outside the front door, the work – which is made up of dozens of envelopes covered in a dense, handwritten scrawl – bears testament to deeply personal displacement and the frustrations of seeking work, visas, and opportunities in South Africa and globally. Also used as the exhibition invitation, the implication of postage represents a connection between the interior and exterior.The work is a monument to resolution; both in its clear conclusions of rejection as well as its perseverance.
The seemingly aged paper further talks to an unearthed, imagined history. Directly next to this, Asemahle Ntlonti’s works on canvas sit like excavations into the gallery walls. For this developing series of paintings, her technique of surface-building and -removal specifically references images of familiar walls from her Eastern Cape hometown, Ngcobo, where skimmed plaster and layers of paint have worn through to reveal a rich history of families raised and lives lived. Flanking the ‘lobby’ on both sides of the entrance, Ntlonti’s Khaya ‘khulu I and II are the first examples of a series of soft-edged and unstretched works throughout the exhibition, and their stitching introduces the important themes of mending and care.
From the beginning, the curatorial design was directed at creating an architectural intervention through installation and sculpture. In line with this aim, the central, boldest and yet most ephemerally gentle work in the exhibition, Inga Somdyala’s The Righteous Path II (2022) is a floor-to-ceiling drapery made of red umbhaco and white cotton which mimics the Abakwetha blanket, now ubiquitous with Xhosa initiation practices. The installation is the second in a series of works recognising a particular memory of his younger brother and cousin’s rite of passage into manhood (to which Somdyala had an intimate relationship). On the floor below the fabric, a runner of salt is suggestive of a path, both the real one taken by the two initiates and Somdyala in the Cofimvaba mountains, as well as the metaphoric one of the progenitorial line.
Central to the home is the language spoken in the household, growing up – the first language – and its connection to religion and cultural practices. Both Stephané E. Conradie and Kamyar Bineshtarigh consider creolised language and identity as central to their artistic practice. Conradie’s two glass assemblages speak to fragility not only in material but also of customs and life – a small embryonic bird sits encased in resin at the top of geestelike onderhouding (2022), along with half-filled miniature liquor bottles speaking to the ‘dop system’ used on farms in the Western Cape. Titled in Afrikaans, her works are in dialogue with Bineshtarigh’s paintings – a sympathy around problematised language exists between their work, one carrying the stigma of the Afrikaans oppressor and the other, the media enforced orientalism associated with Arabic script. Bineshtarigh’s ink and glue paintings form part of ongoing research into public narratives and archives of Arabic-Afrikaans, and the enslaved communities and indentured Muslim labourers that first recorded this creole language.
Perhaps the most intimate area of the home, the bedroom – and indeed, the bed – is often the place where introspection and reverie exists most strongly. Occupying the central floor of the exhibition is a work by Turiya Magadlela, consisting of two steel frame beds in an awkwardly stacked position. On closer inspection, the surface is revealed to be plastered in pages from an Afrikaans bible, its chapters and verses overlapping to envelope the frame entirely. The work’s suggestive positioning speaks of sexual repression in light of religious doctrine, while simultaneously embodying an exhibisionist quality that calls to sexual liberation.
Certain materials employed in this exhibition have a transient quality – often discarded, yet reconsidered in the careful practice of the artists included. Kirsten Eksteen’s Security Blanket (2021), a tapestry made of woven steel wool, is an example of the ubiquity of household objects as well as their consequent invisibility. Used to scrub dishes, the limited life of steel wool always implies the uncomfortable yet gripping boundary of the abject. Eksteen treats her material with the non-hierarchical value typical of flat ontology – considering the meaning ladened onto objects even/ and especially after they have been used: objects never lose their subjecthood and ‘things’ never really disappear.
In conversation, Carola Friess weaves with razorwire, plastic packaging and rope. Her use of razorwire suggests a subtle threat of demarcation – its message informing you that you are either outside or inside, that you belong or that you don’t – a shifting concept that can easily transfer. Precariously juxtaposed, the delicate strands of plastic and sharp blades are woven together within easy cutting proximity of one another. Friess, who has practiced as a surgical nurse for the last ten years, is interested in the complex relational characteristics of care, and her studio work strongly reflects the repairing acts of stitching or suturing.
At the very end of the exhibition space, Wezile Harmans appears again, this time in a darkened room. A single lightbulb shines through a corridor of stretched mutton cloth. Walking through the installation, the artist’s handwritten phrases this time brims with affirmation and self-love. “Love alone is sufficient”, “Be good to my memories”. His love letter recounts the memory of suspending a piece of soft fabric across the wall of a single room, creating two, signalling the moment for rest. He leads us back into the space, his hope that we can approach familiar but once unwelcoming spaces with a greater courage than before.
Stephane E. Conradie