Material Echos WITW Amsterdam
28 October - 18 November 2022
WHATIFTHEWORLD is pleased to present Material Echos a group exhibition featuring the work of Stephané Edith Conradie, Sthenjwa Luthuli, Asemahle Ntlonti, Ben Orkin, Talia Ramkilawan, Athi-Patra Ruga, and Chris Soal.
Material Echos presents the work of seven Southern African artists who engage materially and conceptually with the notion of accumulation. Through repetitive marking, recursive motion, intricate technical processing and the amassing of objects, these artists measure out time and matter.
Time is divided and made visible in these works through the accrual of small gestures, each movement following the next. There is a logic to this toil that sits in opposition to the idea that human experience can be encapsulated by a singular or overarching narrative. This exhibition considers social, historical, cultural and ecological narratives through an infinitesimal lens.
Chris Soal transforms everyday ephemera and found objects into textured, undulating forms. Uses the banal discarded beer cap and inconsequential toothpick to mediate his engagement with global ecological change; He accrues, shapes and distorts these objects to the point where they become untethered from their prior associations. This elaborate deception initiates a sequence of wonder, confusion and exposure that motivates for a re-examination of the ways in which we look and see.
Sthenjwa Luthuli’s meticulously carved woodblocks are a study in synchronised movement. His meditative labour reverberates off the surface of his work in which time is embedded through rhythmic marking. Each small, precise groove describes a moment or trace within a seemingly infinite narrative. His imperfect, handmade marks describe an infinite spiritual realm.
The rich possibilities of detail play an integral role in the work of both Athi-Patra Ruga and Talia Ramkilawan. Ramkilawan’s tufty and generous wall pieces are made through a process of rug hooking, where wool is repeatedly threaded through open-weave fabric to develop an image with a warm, bright, rug-like texture. The characters, scenes and text-based elements in her work are affirmations of her South African Indian identity within a society that has sought, through various means for centuries, to erase it.
An abundance of pattern, colour and movement distinguishes Ruga’s work, which imagines a mythical, utopian space as a way of thinking through social and political realities. His practice across disciplines involves the sumptuous layering of references, resulting in heightened and hybrid forms.
Beadwork is a marker of communal making and sharing for Asemahle Ntlonti, whose intricate works string together a narrative of physical, psychological and spiritual displacement. Ntlonti traces and reflects on her own isiXhosa lineage through her medium and process.
Stephané Conradie’s assemblages of knick-knacks consider the status afforded seemingly unrelated and commonplace objects within low-income homes in Southern Africa. For Conradie, these treasures and their domestic arrangements serve as a jumbled index of social value systems and creolisation within postcolonial material culture. She repurposes the familiar, domestic keepsake as humble tool to unpack the unfathomable proportions of colonial legacies.
Ben Orkin’s soft, rolling, tactile forms are bodily echoes that signify queer relations in the abstract. His ceramic sculptures resonate with the sensitivity and care of their handling.
Gathered together, these varied practices reveal capacities for healing and reflection within composite processes of making while also examining how certain materials and methods are culturally encoded. Where Ntloni uses beadwork as a means of connecting to collective and communal practices, Ruga queers the feminine coding of tapestry and embroidery in service of a political and social critique. In each case, unfathomable concerns are made tangible, human-sized and comprehensible through small moments whose implications exceed the sum of their parts.
The repetition and intricacies of these works challenge the foundations that propel societal norms. What does it mean to perform the same action over and over again and what are the implications of this for our understanding of labour in its various forms? What does it mean to collect, categorise and arrange and how can the taxonomies that underlie this instinct be reconfigured? What is the significance or value of a single mark or presence within broader contemporary and historical narrative? These tiny, ringing gestures assert subjective experience as indivisible from that of the grand narrative.