Above: Meleko Mokgosi. Democratic Intuition, Lerato: Philia I, 2016. © Meleko Mokgosi. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) is pleased to present Meleko Mokgosi: Your Trip to Africa, an exhibition of newly commissioned works created by the artist specifically for PAMM’s 30-foot double-height project gallery. On view from February 27, 2020 through May 30, 2021, the exhibition will investigate themes of colonialism, nationalism, and contemporary southern Africa. The show will feature a series of large-scale paintings that together function as a single, unified work.
Meleko Mokgosi, who was born in Botswana, employs traditions of Western European painting to deliver sharp political critiques relating to the postcolonial condition. By combining a high degree of painterly skill with a poetic, open-ended semiotic approach and an affinity for archival research, the artist shines light on some of the complex socioeconomic dynamics that animate contemporary southern Africa.
Mokgosi typically employs hyper-realistic figurative imagery on an epic scale, incorporating mysterious, unidentified personages loosely linked to one another in implied storylines, sometimes spanning multiple timeframes within the same composition. Mokgosi’s work references murals and cinema as well as the conventional European artistic genre known as history painting. Whereas traditional history paintings feature lofty subjects—military battles or climactic scenes drawn from ancient legends—Mokgosi elevates everyday, anonymous persons and common objects, setting them against mundane domestic contexts while inserting references that establish an array of subtle yet powerful suggestive effects.
“This exhibition engages PAMM’s long-abiding interest in the Afro-Atlantic world that interweaves Europe, Africa, the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean,” said René Morales, PAMM’s Interim Director of Curatorial Affairs. “It draws from Miami’s deep identification as the crossroads of the Americas while signaling the museum’s dedication to addressing issues of racial, ethnic, and national identity with an eye toward diversity and transnational and cross-cultural interconnection.”
Mokgosi’s exhibition at PAMM centers around the 1966 film Unsere Afrikareise (Our Trip to Africa) by the seminal filmmaker Peter Kubelka, who is widely recognized as one of the progenitors of the Structural film movement. The film follows a wealthy Austrian family on their safari trip through Africa, revealing the differences in social and economic status between the two cultures. As the Europeans engage in various leisure activities (swimming, sunbathing, teasing their native attendants, and, of course, hunting), the action is intercut with fleeting glimpses of African passersby engaged in their daily labor (carrying water, pounding a mortar with a pestle). Kubelka punctuates these sequences with the repetitive, gruesome spectacle of the Austrians killing and skinning an elephant, a zebra, a lion, a giraffe, and other wild animals.
The disconcerting dimensions of Unsere Africareise have often been cited, together with Kubelka’s stated disgust with his bourgeois patrons, to support the argument that he meant the work to serve as a critique of European colonialism and tourism in Africa. Mokgosi takes a more critical perspective, however, citing Kubelka’s insistence that his true intention was to “try and tear the emotions loose from the people, so that they would gain distance to their emotions, their feelings.” Taking Kubelka at his word, Mokgosi infuses the film with a new emotional force, reversing the desensitized tone that often accompanies modernist aesthetic treatments of non-Western subjects. As he has often done before, Mokgosi drives this critique through the heart of the Western art historical canon.
Meleko Mokgosi: Your Trip to Africa is organized by PAMM Interim Director of Curatorial Affairs René Morales. Ongoing support for PAMM’s project galleries from Knight Foundation is gratefully acknowledged.