When We Travel

Solo Exhibition
26 August - 23 September 2023

Exhibition Opening: Saturday 26 August 2023
Exhibition Closure: Saturday 23 September 2023

WHATIFTHEWORLD is pleased to present When We Travel a solo exhibition by Wezile Harmans.

The exhibition forms part of Wezile Harmans ongoing research on human displacement by highlighting the quotidian movement and narratives of subaltern individuals. Comprising of abstracted maps on paper and fabric as well as a short film, the exhibition probes the traces left behind by individuals as they navigate culturally and geographically unfamiliar surroundings in search of a position of familiarity and comfort. Harman’s theme is universal and exists in perpetuity as humans have always been nomadic, reshaping  territories as they move.

At the heart of the artist’s research are his personal experiences, recorded and observed as he travels through different countries and environments for residences and research. Thus, while he observes human behaviour, he does not merely do so from the terraces. Harmans is an insider building these narratives from his own experiences.

Unlike in historical maps, which are constructed based on conquest and underpinned by the narratives of exploration and navigation – Harmans’ practice is preoccupied with mapping informality. Thus, while in typical Western research, maps correlate to the discourses of the powerful, the artist’s creative constructions – which are a result of his field research – are revisionist maps contesting and subverting their traditional association with power and authority. The alternative maps presented before us are the opposite of the homogeneous and closed Cartesian political maps as they offer a reading of ‘other’ geographies and are a result of converting sensory information into the physical artwork.

In the process of constructing the maps, Harman takes note of random individual movements across the demarcated municipal, provincial, national, and regional boundaries. His work is actively inclusive as it also records the trails left by those without official identity documents, individuals dehumanised by sovereign states that categorise them as ‘illegal migrants’.

Most recently Harmans’ research focused on movements at the Beitbridge Border Post, located between South Africa and Zimbabwe where he attempted to map the ephemeral trails of migrants crossing the Limpopo river, where many fall prey to flood waters or crocodiles.

The complex, and at times, intentionally confusing combination of letters and numbers is a deliberate move to engage the viewer in the bureaucratic entanglements of travel. Instead of the official identity numbers on authorized documents, the artist is interested in coordinates and letters of geographic locations which he intentionally distorts, echoing chaotic encounters at border points.

In the conversations and interactions with fellow travellers, the artist is frequently confronted with sensitive information. This places a huge responsibility on him to pay attention to detail while being careful enough to empathise with the individuals involved to avoid furthering trauma.

Although what the artist projects onto his medium is subjective it is important to note that Harmans is not prescriptive, he does not offer us any solutions, which is not surprising considering that his focus is on emotions. He is not even instructive in encouraging the viewer to adopt a certain position. What he presents to us are sets of propositions and dialectics to engage with.

He leaves us with the notion of the unfinished, which is helpful in furthering conversations. Through this offering , the artist invites us to engage with the work and consider it’s endless possibilities. His goal is to enlighten, not to create horizons.

  – Text by Barnabas Ticha Muvhuti

This body of work marks the culmination of the period Wezile Harmans spent at the Krone x WHATIFTHEWORLD Artist in residence program, at the Twee Jonge Gezellen farm in Tulbagh, South Africa.


Artist Statement

My practice is influenced by research based subjects that reveal human behaviour and the impact of knowledge transmission towards our surroundings. In my practice, I create works that engage with memory, reality, displacement and landscape.

These somewhat universal themes are dealt with in my work by highlighting the peculiarity of experiences and developing ideas as a way of creating deeper conversations.

I develop this by creating empowering conversations that forge new directions in the face of various forms of marginalisation and exclusion from public and social spaces.

I use art as a tool for social change and I engage with the community through art to reveal how art can be a coping mechanism, a system to educate and a medium to share voices of every individual. I believe we all want to be seen and heard in every possible way. Through my practice, I suggest that existence begins within the gift of a free mind to occupy and provide change that will be inclusive in our surroundings.

I use materials that have lived longer and have a significant influence in our lives, through them I suggest, the more socially relevant the idea of knowledge transmission and access to spaces using art.

– Wezile Harmans