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12 Artists of Tomorrows/ Today

by Mariella Franzoni | Curator

Gabe BC (USA, 1982), Boemo Diale (South Africa, 2000), Edi Dubien (France, 1963), Marc Herrero (Barcelona, 1977), Manjot Kaur (India, 1989), Natalie Paneng (South Africa, 1996), Cinthia Sifa Mulanga (DRC, 1997), Raphael Sagerra Finok (Brazil, 1985), Rita Sala (Spain, 1994), Maria Sosa (Mexico, 1985), Lindokuhle Sobekwa (South Africa, 1995), Marlene Steyn (South Africa, 1989).

 

Under the title of Inhabiting the Wild, Tomorrows/ Today 2024 brings together 12 solo projects by emerging and underrepresented artists around the urgent quest for a new political ecology that deconstructs binary categories, concepts and beliefs inherited from a shared colonial modern thinking.

 

Brought together around the notion of the wild - borrowed from Jack Halberstam’s theory of the wild as an unbounded and unpredictable space in contrast with modernity’s impulse toward order- this year Tomorrows/ Today artists paves new ways of inhabiting the world and our connection with the nonhuman beings around us. Through their work they offer other ways of dwelling in the inner realms of the body and the mind, as well as dissident modes of memory and imagination in our being in the world.

 

The notion of romanticised wild nature, whether as a neutral backdrop for human activity, an undomesticated dangerous otherness, or an idealised Eden, lies at the core of a modern and colonial founding epistemology. A trope in modern historical, fictional, and scientific literature, and reflected in dichotomies such as nature vs culture, feminine vs masculine, nature vs technology, science vs myth, etc., this epistemology can be imputed to justify the capitalist and extractivist exploitation of natural and human resources, along with the erasure, from the narrative of history, of dispossessed peoples and non-normative and female bodies. It is precisely from this site of dissident enunciation that a new political ecology can emerge to rethink interspecies relationships between humans, non-humans, matters, and technologies, as well as to reimagine our relationship with our own minds and bodies.

 

Through different aesthetic practices and personal mythologies founded in post-humanist speculations, queer or feminist ecologies, new materialisms, decolonial approaches to the representation of the landscape, or imaginative recovering of pre-colonial knowledge and spirituality, the projects presented by these artists embrace an approach to the practice of art making understood as a plural counterpoint to hegemonic visions of the past, the present and the future.

 

Exquisite Pangea

Marc Herrero (Barcelona, 1977)

Le Violón Bleu/Blue Wind Project (Tunisia and Barcelona)

 

Inspired by a post-natural and post-humanist critique, as well as by an ecological critique of the colonial history of Africa, the solo project Exquisite Pangea by Spanish artist Marc Herrero is populated by uncanny creatures that refuse any scientific species classifications, as they blur the boundaries between the human and the non-human, or between natural and artificial beings. By depicting human bodies transformed into animal forms and vice versa, he draws attention to the devastating effects of industrial agriculture, deforestation, and climate change on the natural world.

 

His iconography, centred on metamorphic bodies, also explores the complex symbiotic and emotional relationship between humans and non-human species, challenging the capitalist and colonial epistemology of the domination of the former over the latter. Some of the artist's portrayals of deformed creatures —like his overbuilt cow that evokes bodies transformed by anabolic steroids in the work Cow (2023) — reference the pressure contemporary society exerts on bodies, minds, and souls, constantly pushed toward productivity and an idealised perfection.

 

Especially conceived for Tomorrows/ Today, Inhabiting the Wild, a series of drawings point to the very epistemology of hunting as a primordial survival practice that has been perverted during the colonial process and that survives today through the economy of legal and illegal trophy hunting.

 

Recalling the practice of taxidermy mounting, in Protein Pillar (2024), a myriad of small animal paws—including the five great animals that are part of the natural ecosystem of South Africa and that are considered the most desirable hunting trophies—swirl around a column. Culminating with a floral ornament that recalls the South African national flower (the protea), the column references the architectural structure that more than anything else symbolises the very sustainment of what modernity has named civilization. A tribute to the part of the living bodies that primarily support life, that is, the paws as living columns, this work poses questions like: “Who supports whom in the cycle of life?”.

 

In his Sinfonia del Desamparo (2024), Herrero reinterprets the famous 16th-century engraving by the botanical Dutch painter Pieter van der Borcht the Elder, depicting a fantastical animal with the heads of various other animals sprouting from its body, known to be an allegory for the difficulty of ruling over a diverse nation. Here the artist continues his dialogue with the South African original fauna, impacted by the violence of colonial history and that still nourishes the imagery of wildlife as a primordial desire that persists today between the tourist industry and national heritage complex. Herreros’ chimeric beast loses its aggressive appearance, becoming a body-bestiary where the heads of the animals—from elephants and zebras to hippos, seals, lions, and springboks, amongst many other animals from both land and marine environments—coexist symphonically. They indicate a constellation of vital emotions, passions, and impulses, while also containing hidden references to history and myths from South Africa: from the legendary Grootslang, a fantastic creature depicted as a mix between an elephant and a python, to the story of Hippo Huberta, the notorious female hippopotamus who travelled for a large distance across the country, becoming revered by Zulus and Xhosas alike, whose death by the hands of three farmers in 1931 shook the entire nation, so much that her body was re-dignified through taxidermy and exhibited since then in a national museum. Emerging from the stomach of the beast, three rhino heads have their precious horns replaced with human hands communicating in South African sign language: “freedom”, they say.

 

In this solo project, Marc Herrero’s multispecies iconography paves a path in which historical, political, and environmental questions are posed to the viewer, who is called to reimagine human-nature relationships through principles of empathy, reciprocity, and responsibility.

 

Of Love and Longing

Manjot Kaur (India, 1989)

Caroline O’Breen (Amsterdam.

 

The idea of interspecies mating and hybridizations is central in the work of Manjot Kaur, who presents the solo project Of Love and Longing as part of Tomorrows/Today 2024. Inhabiting the Wild. The Canada-based Indian artist references queer and eco-feminist literature while reviving the Indian miniature painting tradition in her oneiric compositions, where bird-headed women's bodies give birth to complex ecosystems.

 

The goddess of abundance, fertility, and sexuality, Lajja Gauri, is a central figure in the series While She Births an Ecosystem: she appears as a cow- or lotus-headed human body gifted with special fertility power, as her progeny ensures the continuation of the biodiversity of flora and fauna.

 

Other epics, mythological, and religious narrations are evoked and yet entirely reinterpreted by Kaur in the series Hybrid Beings, gouache and watercolour on paper diptychs, where fantastic illustrations and handwritten texts meet in graceful asymmetrical compositions. Here, Kaur recovers and rewrites one of the most illustrated themes of Sanskrit literature: the Ashta-Nayika or the eight romantic heroines, female figures whose stories of love represent eight different states of a relationship with a male hero. Figures of endangered births from the Indian peninsula fauna are integrated into Kaur’s compositions to subvert the original narratives, from which the figure of the male hero is completely removed. For instance, in Proshitabhartruka and The Bengal Florican (2022), the original story of a disconsolate woman abandoned by the husband is reimagined as the re-encounter, through the poetic of writing, between a bird-headed female figure and a Bengal Florican; or in Utka and The Cinnamon-Headed Green Pigeon (2024) where the Nayika’s anxious loneliness is replaced with a sense of harmony and connection with a new birth classified as at risk of extinction. Through imagery founded in multispecies and interspecies speculations, these works raise concerns both toward endangered biodiversity and the narrative of weak or incomplete womanhood.

 

Seeds and flowers, among other botanical elements, are a leitmotif in works like The Botanical Womb (2021), whose ornamental nature is only apparent, as it entails a speculative effort to reimagine the world’s biodiversity regenerated by seeds of intertwined species. In the artist’s words:

 

"In a world dominated by monocultures, I imagine what the world would be like if ecosystems could produce seeds containing the genome of intertwined species (endangered and extinct), and a capacity to disperse and regenerate biodiverse ecosystems. Each individual seed would carry the potential of producing a myriad of unique ecosystems under different conditions, therefore making them polymorphous seeds" Manjot Kaur

 

Heart of the Garden

Lindokuhle Sobekwa (South Africa, 1995)

Goodman Gallery (Cape Town, Johannesburg, London, New York)

 

Departing strongly from a detached-observant documentary approach, Lindokuhle Sobekwa’s photographic work aligns with a radically lyrical language intertwined with an autobiographical narrative. His relationship with his sister, Ziyanda, who tragically passed away after being estranged from her family for over a decade, is at the very origin of the project Ezilalini (The Country). A selection of images from this body of work, dated 2018 and all shot with a medium format camera, are brought together for Heart of the Garden, his solo project within the program Tomorrows/ Today 2023, Inhabiting the Wild. The series captures Sobekwa's quest to delve into his family's history through a gruelling 9-hour voyage from the photographer's residence in Thokoza, Johannesburg, to Transkei, in the Eastern Cape, the region of his family roots, where Ziyanda spent her childhood and where she is now buried.

 

From urban gardens as a symbol of resistance to endless fields that disappear into the horizon, pointing at an unreachable infinity, Sobekwa selected from this photographic journey the images that best narrate the intimate intertwining between the search for his ancestral roots and his quest for a connection with a South African natural landscape entangled with historical anguish.

 

The idea of Nature appears in Heart of the Garden as a controversial crossroad between the image of the garden and the one of the graveyard, a primordial site of both grief and hope, violence and beauty, politics and spirituality. The words “As a people, we can look our ancestors in the face and say: your sacrifices were not in vain,” pronounced by Mandela in relation to the question of land redistribution in a post-apartheid South Africa lacerated by land dispossession, deeply echo in these images as a promise that keeps renewing itself.

 

It is precisely Gogo Lucy Zwane In Her Garden (2021), currently one of the most popular images of the young photographer, that situates us at the intersection of beauty and violence in the South African landscape. Shot on Khumalo Street, in front of Mshayazafe hostel, the migrant hostel that in the early '90s became a scene of violent political conflict between the ANC and Inkatha, it portrays Gogo Lucy in ecstatic contemplation of her own garden, a small piece of cultivated nature stolen from the austere architecture of the township’s hard pavement and brick buildings. Both in Yonelisa Samela in his grandmother's garden (2020) and in the diptych Luvo in the garden I and II (2020), the subjects contemplatively stare at flowers, yet their gaze hints at something beyond these botanical creatures. A sentiment of gloominess surfaces beyond the calmness of the scene. What is concealed behind the beauty of these flowers?

 

Across the vast, sometimes arid, sometimes fertile expanses of what were once homelands in the Eastern Cape, Sobekwa's gaze is turned to a natural landscape that connects him with his ancestors’ land. A sense of displacement surfaces, yet everything becomes more familiar through his encounters with people, animals, trees, and their stories. “A line can be drawn to connect the horizons of the different landscapes portrayed in my journey toward the land of his ancestors, a way to connect these places across space and time”, Lindokhule says. The word horizon in English indicates something unreachable that always moves away from the viewer, while in Xhosa we translate it as ‘‘Umngqameko’’, which rather has tangible connotations. It is precisely the intimate search for a connection that is both visible and palpable with the landscape and with the forces of nature through which ancestors manifest themselves, what keeps together this body of photographic works. And then, suddenly, a tree laying on a beach beaten by the waves and the wind indicate the abrupt termination of the photographer’s journey. The beach is a place of ending and beginning at the same time, as Sobekwa recalls with this image the colonial history that starts from the shores of this land named South Africa.

 

La Nature Retrouvée / Nature Rediscovered

Edi Dubien (France, 1963)

Alain Gutharc Gallery, (Paris)

 

I speak as much of an animal as of myself,

I speak as much of a plant as of myself ,

I speak of a birth and upheaval. I speak

Of existence to be protected: children as

well as nature, beasts, a part of us

 

Edi Duben

 

A natural environment imagined as a gentle and benevolent mother, populated by kind animals and taciturn children and teenagers, emerges from the work of French artist Edi Dubien in his La Nature Retrouvée / Nature Rediscovered. His works on canvas and paper rewrite the story of his childhood and puberty while addressing questions of gender identity and transformation. "A mosaic of an untitled series of drawings and watercolor portraits, starring children on the cusp of adolescence, whose facial lines occasionally blend with figures from the natural world - a deer, crow, fern branch, dog, or shell - acts as a chorus to the central painting Leopard Self-Portrait (2023). "We are introduced to an intimate, personal story of gender transition, where the human body is transformed through a process of meshing and hybridization with the plant and animal world, as it discovers a myriad of new, unexplored corporeal natures emerging from within. The transition occurs in a rural setting, where the wood, wind, rivers, and its flora and fauna provide a constellation of a nourishing, affective community. Dubien references L’Enfant sauvage (The Wild Child) by the French director François Truffaut, the 1970 film that narrates the story of a kind doctor and his housekeeper who join efforts to raise a “wild boy”that emerges mute and wounded from the forests of rural France. Released during the "flower child" era the film explored the Romantic notion of the "noble savage" versus rationalism and civilization. From this controversial landmark in the history of cinema, Dubien recovers the theme of the apparent conflict between nature and culture, or spontaneous animality and tamed animality. However, in the biographical narrative behind La Nature Retrouvée / Nature Rediscovered, the artist reverses the process: as a space of learning and unlearning, the forest is what gives the individual back the most important capacity for knowledge - the knowledge of oneself.

 

Desde mis entrañas te escucho / I listen to you from my depths Maria Sosa (México, 1985)

No Man’s Art Gallery (Amsterdam)

 

The practice of Maria Sosa (1985, México) lies in a nuanced yet constant undermining of the very epistemology of the coloniality of being. Her work looks, through a sometimes historical and sometimes speculative lens, at the pre-Hispanic spiritual dimension of indigenous people in her homeland, Mexico. Centred in a diverse and complex visual language that encompasses textile, video art, ceramics, and mixed media installations, her research is founded on ancestral and performative handcraft techniques, ethnobotanical research, and an archaeology of icons. Sosa recovers and rewoven into her personal mythology key spiritual figures and deities that were vilified by, and yet somehow survived, the centuries-long process of colonial annihilation of indigenous systems of spiritual beliefs and material knowledge around nature, humans, and the non-human. As she reflects on the mechanism by which the West constructed its 'others' and itself (the dialectic by which the superiority of the coloniser is fixed concomitantly with the inferiority of the colonised, as explained by Spivak among many other post- and decolonial theorists), she reimagines the redemption of spiritual forces channelled through practices, materials, and bodies.

 

For TT2024 Inhabiting the Wild, Sosa presents Desde mis entrañas te escucho (I listen to you from my depths), a solo project conceived in collaboration with RojoNegro collective. The title makes reference to the homonymous piece Desde mis entrañas te escucho (2023), one of two textile works hand-tailored by the artist as ancient ritual costumes through which the figure of Xipe Totec is invoked as a source of strength and healing. This Aztec god of life-death-rebirth (a regeneration deity), linked to natural ecosystem elements such as agriculture and the wild vegetation, the east and spring, was traditionally invoked by rite officiants wearing the skins of the bodies of the sacrificed human victims. Through the use of lamb tripe as a textile material to tailor the cloth's applications, the artist emphasises a visceral connection with natural and ancestral forces. The dead body’s entrails become ornament, suggesting a symbolic circularity from internal depths of the body to the skin on the surface, and vice versa.

 

Maria Sosa’s constellation of works introduces us to a healing ecology grounded in ancestral memory and resilience, a practice that delves deep into the heart of both ancient spirituality and the colonial archive, while tapping into a raw connection with nature's forces. With an aesthetic process rooted in artisanal practices that involve learning through the body, Sosa interweaves pieces of personal memory, historical research and imaginative speculation.

 

Abacaxi

Raphael Sagarra Finok (Brazil, 1985)

Reiners Contemporary Art (Málaga).

 

Reinterpreting the cultural and aesthetic languages of the subculture and marginalised communities in Brazil, Raphael Sagarra’ presents Abacaxi, a solo project named after the sweet pineapple fruit indigenous of his homeland, which domesticated and harvested by the Portuguese empire in the mid-sixteenth century, and introduced to its colonies in Africa and India, soon becoming a symbol of both colonial relationships and hospitality.

Encompassing painting, sculpture and installation, Sagarra also employs organic materials such as wood and natural fibres. Stylised genderless human heads merge with floral and herbal ornaments that reference the “Mata Atlantica” (the Atlantic Forest), set against backgrounds of graphic elements and geometric patterns. The iconographic universe of Sagarra recalls urban graffiti culture while connecting with ancient and contemporary Brazilian cultural and religious syncretism and its visual culture complex, in which Indigenous, African, migrant heritage have melted together. In Sagarra’s work the wild lay in the interplay of the forest and the urban settings. It is a space inhabited by written and oral stories listened and recorded from the people inhabiting these interstitial places. Like an ethnographer “at home” he keeps a diary using of such mediums as photography, video, sketches, and notes, through which he captures moments of the tropical milieu and the individuals encountered within it. In its exploration of the intricate relationship between humanity and the natural world, Abacaxi celebrates the diversity and harmony of the Atlantic Forest's flora and fauna, while reflecting on themes of environmental destruction and preservation.

 

Pista, Rastre / Trail, Trace

Rita Sala (Spain, 1994)

Ana Mas Project (Barcelona)

 

For Spanish artist Rita Sala, the pictorial medium is a tool for the exploration of her inner self, a journey toward both corporal and emotional healing, a space of negotiation between tension and release, disciplining and unbinding, of sameness and difference.

 

The human body, its anatomy, the articulation of its bones, the cons its intentional and unconscious movements, are central elements in her research: from her own physicality, with which she experiments with the medium through pictorial gestures, to the figures of her subjects, genderless humans whose activities, thoughts, and emotions are ambiguously narrated in her paintings. Inspired by a balance between two elements of the Tarot, water and earth, as well as fragments of novels and poems, Rita Sala’s solo project Pista, Rastre / Trail, Trace seems to evoke the tension between taming and unbinding of the self. Both water and earth are elements necessary for the growth and nurturing of the bodies and the emotions of humans and non-humans.

 

The project brings together two bodies of work in dialogue. The first consists of a series of earthy-toned paintings on canvas, where brush and airbrushing techniques complement each other. The series Saltito (Little Jump) portrays human bodies falling suspended in the atmosphere, immortalised in a diving motion: bodies seem to abandon themselves in a free, unbounded fall, yet, like in Olympic diving, the more disciplined and trained the body, the smoother its path through the air into the water. Other works like Embolics (Tangle) (2023), Cap cap cap (Head head head) (2022), or Trote (Trot) (2023) manifest the intention to suggest complex narratives that remain, however, only hinted, leaving it to the viewer to complete the tales or to simply imagine these figures as rather completely abstract compositions. According to the artist, this body of work manifests the element of water, a metaphor for fluidity and strength, but also a symbol of the affective and emotional system, in the Tarot. Here the act of painting is understood as a process that connects the hand and the eye in a magical synchrony: the organs have their own knowledge, their own memory. It is a process that Rita chooses to approach through a sort of unbounded intuition, where pictorial gestures materialise in strokes that sometimes define uncertain contours and shapes. Those that might feel like errors at the beginning are assimilated as signs indicating a new direction, as if they were part of a divination journey. The second body of work, a series of monochrome airbrushing paintings on natural brown paper, offers a narrative dominated by the element of earth, a symbol of tangibility and action. Here, human bodies are unequivocally protagonists of a bucolic storytelling, depicted in interaction with a different array of tamed and untamed non-human beings: from a peacock or dragonfly to a wallow or olive branch. Emotions still surface in these scenes, whose atmosphere of suspense and mystery is accentuated by the blurry lines and soft texture of the airbrushing painting technique. It is precisely through Rita’s constant questioning and deconstruction of the pictorial techniques and the structure of the images that dualisms like the inside and the outside, the movement and the stasis are dissolved or, at least, put at rest.

 

I Open Her

Marlene Steyn

SMAC (Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Johannesburg).

 

Titled I Open Her, South African artist Marlene Steyn’s solo project features uncanny and dream-like paintings and ceramic whose subjects are dissected to unveil complex inner emotional architectures: these compositions looks at the secret, ancient language of mother nature, interpreted as a suppressed and forgotten mother tongue of the body and the soul.

 

In the words of writer Alix-Rose Cowie:

 

In ‘I Open Her’, Steyn continues to establish an expression that is truthful and fluent to her; writing her self through painting and ceramics. The paintings are a stream of consciousness conjured in a (over)flow state, one thing leading to another, compulsively filling the frame and leaving her hours later analysing what has come out of her. The ceramic sculptures are made quickly in a state of intuitive play. Unlike the brimming paintings, their forms twist around big negative spaces, vessels for possibility. Both practices are ‘of the body’, and as she moves, things that occupy her subconscious shake loose and slip to the surface unplanned. In a way, her art-making is an excavation; scratching and digging, obsessing with a little brush like brushing soil from precious bones. “It's trying to meet the thing that needs to be there.”

 

I Open Her is a cracking open to facilitate transformation. Going inward to find your selves. Going inward to come out whole. “Underneath your face is another one, is another one, is another one.” We carry all our younger selves with us, the visions for who we will be, the slippery recognition of self in past lives, our lineage, ancestors, the selves we are in relation to others, who we are in the light and who we are in the shadows. Steyn’s symbols speak to our depths; infinite staircases, pools of water; eggs in various states—protected by a shell or cracked open. Each layer reveals another Russian doll, related but each slightly different from the last, and some harder to twist open than others. Objects and interiors—extensions of self—are woven in, “spillovers from life”. One thing leading to another.

The faces, or bodies, are all connected. Pick an entry point and trace the outline of a face until it transforms into another before your eyes. A straight route up and a curvy slide down—snakes and ladders over lips, legs, trunks, necks, noses, and leaves. One’s left eye becomes another’s right. Intertwined. One’s existence is the possibility for another’s. Branches. Women becoming each other, becoming themselves, becoming trees.

Individual but inseparable, Steyn’s beings can also be read as community—connections, interdependence, lifelines. Spending time in the forest near her home, she thinks about networks of women; extending from root to root. Unearthing buried languages, we can learn to write our true selves (all of them), and reach each other, whether through paint, or poems, or code, or clay. “Why do we make art?,” Steyn asks, and answers: “We make art because language is limiting and we are so complex.”

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