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Quiet Ground | The South African Pavilion at the Venice Biennale

Curated by Portia Malatjie featuring works by art collective MADEYOULOOK, Molemo Moiloa and Nare Mokgotho

The South African Pavilion opens today with its exhibition 'Quiet Ground' for the 60th anniversary of the Venice Biennale 2024. The Biennale will be open to the public from April 20th to November 24th.

 

Curated by Portia Malatjie, the exhibition will feature a sound installation, titled 'Dinokana', by Johannesburg-based art collective, MADEYOULOOK (Molemo Moiloa and Nare Mokgotho).

 

 

Against the historical backdrop of forced migration and land dispossession in South Africa, the exhibition Quiet Ground directs its attention to the potential for both individual and collective healing within the experience of feeling 'foreign at home'. These themes intricately tie the pavilion and exhibition to the commemoration of 30 Years of Democracy in South Africa, signifying the ongoing national endeavor to address the longstanding ruptures in indigenous peoples' relationship with the land.

 

"Quiet Ground is a meditation on the political, social, ontological and spiritual histories of land and water. It explores the secret life of land and water and examines the many ways that the environment is shaped by our socio-political climate. Rooted in the ongoing legacies of forced migration in South Africa, the exhibition focuses on how the dispossessed reconnect with the land and investigates cycles of loss and repair during multiple iterations of displacement. In charting processes of rehoming and rehabilitation, the exhibition understands the relationship with the earth as a way of being. It advocates the subjectivity and agency of land, and explores land as method, epistemology, educator, repository of memory, archive and as a portal through which ancestral knowledge is communicated and transferred. Quiet Ground celebrates how the land quietly grounds us and eagerly proclaims gratitude for its generous capacity to absorb our trauma that is entrenched in centuries of violation.

Colonialism, slavery, the 1913 Land Act, Irrigation and Conservation of Waters Act 8 of 1912, and later the Water Act 54 of 1956 during the reign of the apartheid regime dictated where, how, and when Black and indigenous people were allowed to engage with their environments, including the rivers and streams that ran through their neighbourhoods. These histories and their legacy of ongoing displacement continue to decimate Black and indigenous people’s relationship to the environment. The exhibition emphasises the many forms of reparative practices employed to reignite healthy, multisensorial, and mutually beneficial relationships to land and to water. These strategies take an intergenerational and interdependent approach, paying attention to rituals of yesteryear alongside contemporary reparative modes of engagement. By considering the imperceptible frequencies of everyday life, Quiet Ground amplifies a more subdued, meditative process of re-rooting in the face of continued dispossession. It focuses on the tranquil individual and communal spiritual practices that do not over pronounce themselves and listens to the ways in which the dust settles on the earth in the aftermath of a revolution through politics of landcare.

 

Image curtesy of Bongeka Ngcobo
Image curtesy of Bongeka Ngcobo

The exhibition is a solo presentation of MADEYOULOOK’s newly commissioned sound installation, Dinokana, that explores themes of land reconstitution and meditative strategies of processing history. The artists consider the materiality and metaphor of the resurrection plant – a plant that, in apparent death, reanimates with a few drops of water – to draw attention to how Black communities have approached land rehabilitation. The installation focuses on the resilience of a people that has been forcibly removed multiple times and, at each location, has employed fresh, mastered, and innovative agricultural methods to re-energise the land. MADEYOULOOK draws attention to the various legislations that have controlled how Black and indigenous peoples have been able to access their environments. They examine water sovereignty and the instrumentalisation of water as a form of capture and alienation. They contemplate the political and social capacity of water and propose tapping into water as an infrastructure of repair. Dinokana’s sonic component is constructed around the timeline of the ebbs and flows of the thunderstorm, allowing the energies of expectant rainclouds to direct the work’s auditory mood. The immersive installation brings together sound, cartographies, plants, and rainwater to consider the cyclical and insistent cross-generational relationship between water and Black life. The multichannel sound piece weaves in songs about the rain, harvest, and water divination with snippets of interviews from growers and land workers from different generations and communities across the country who are finding new vocabularies for resurrecting their relationship to land. The immersive sanctuary invites visitors to sit on and in the work, making it a space of refuge and of rest.

 

Quiet Ground compels us to ask: what can the land teach us about repair and restoration? What strategies can we employ to reconnect materially, ontologically, and spiritually to the environment? What future possibilities emerge from learning the practices of our ancestors? And, what happens when we listen to the whimsical whispers and trickling vibrations of everyday gatherings with land and with water?

ABOUT DINOKANA (2024)

 

 

Dinokana (2024) is the result of seven years of research in the northern part of South Africa, on histories of land work, traditional infrastructures of land repair and their connections to repair of society more broadly.

 

The installation Dinokana (2024) takes as its point of departure the histories of Bahuruste and Bakoni and their experiences of cycles of displacement and return. These peoples—and their sites of rebuilding and land-based rehabilitation—serve as markers for navigating psycho-social repair through the land, for contemporary South Africa and beyond. Dinokana features references to learnings about historical infrastructures of recovery and traditional water technologies used to rebuild the villages and communities of Bahurutse and Bakoni.

 

Rain in the semi-arid context of South Africa, and indigenous technologies of its calling and dispersal, are fundamental to historical and contemporary strategies for making life. Dinokana references long-held spiritual connections to water and land, and generationally inherited modes for its manifestation. In these traditions, land and rain are in themselves, indistinguishable from one another and their combined power holds its own subjectivity. Drawing on knowledges developed from historical and contemporary black life, Dinokana explores ways of repairing our relationships to land and rain—but also of ourselves—after cycles of loss and forced disinheritance.

 

The central piece of the Dinokana installation is an 8-channel sound composition that foregrounds the power and place of rain and water in traditional South African society. Working from historical archive of songs of rain and harvest, the sound piece brings together field recordings of the natural landscape, interviews with generations of land workers, healers and family memory—framed within the structure of a Johannesburg thunderstorm. The sound piece is held within a constructed landscape, referencing the terraced hillsides of Bokoni and a rain-scape made up of resurrection plant clippings. The “resurrection plant” (uvukakwabafile in isiZulu, umazifisi in isiNdebele or Myrothamnus flabellifolius in Latin) is characterised by its use in African medicine and traditional cultures but also by its representation of the potency of rain in repair and regeneration in Southern African life."

 

Curatorial statement by Portia Malatjie.

 

The South African Pavilion is sponsored by the South African Department of Sports, Arts and Culture.

 

Images and curatorial statement provided by the South African Pavilion team.

 

 

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