Poster boy of the art world

2012-06-09 17:03

South African art is a hit at Documenta, one of the world’s most important exhibitions. Held every five years in Germany, Documenta features artists from 55 countries.

Virtually every round-up of Documenta has highlighted SA’s most famous artist, William Kentridge. His epic installation The Refusal of Time is being hailed for its collaboration with a leading scientist.

Photographer Zanele Muholi, meanwhile, is the talk of Kassel, where the exhibition is staged. Early visitors have reportedly been moved by her powerful display of 60 lesbian and transgender portraits.

The art at Documenta is not for sale – at least not until the 100-day exhibition ends. However, City Press has learnt that there have been several offers to purchase SA-based artist Kudzanai Chiurai’s entire installation of sculptures, paintings, drawings and films. A European museum is also looking to buy works from his previous shows. The international attention will help set him up as an important new name in art.

Chiurai was unable to attend Saturday’s opening in Kassel, so he celebrated Documenta in Joburg by once again taking his art to the streets and attracting the city’s hip young crowd. Last night he closed off a lane of Juta Street in Braamfontein and showed two films accompanied by live performances from Thandiswa Mazwai and members of BLK JKS as well as photographs of his Documenta work. With this he launched a small show of striking new posters.

Born in Zimbabwe, Chiurai came to South Africa to study, becoming the first black fine-art graduate at the University of Pretoria.

He received unwelcome attention from the Zimbabwean government and was forced into exile after creating work that mocked Robert Mugabe.

He has lived through several episodes of xenophobic violence, witnessing attacks in Johannesburg that left him too afraid to leave his studio. The soft-spoken, bald-headed, bearded 31-year-old’s response has been a darkly political body of work.

His rich paintings are haunted by violent iconography and struck by colour. His fashionable portraits of African dictators are critiques of power that tackle the systematic abuse of their people – especially women – by the leaders. He made his first film last year – a last supper with a female Jesus, a muti murder and thuggish disciples.

It makes sense that he has always designed posters. They are, by nature, a politically enabled format that can be mass produced and plastered across the city.

At first glance, Chiurai’s latest posters seem to be a continuation of our political protest tradition. But it is their ambiguity that makes one pause. Each bears the slogan “conflict resolution”.

A self-portrait holding a shovel could be ironic. Murder resolves conflict. Yet burying a loved one does too.

A burning ID comments on the burning of dompas books. Yet it is also a burning of the idea of borders.

They ask opposing questions: Is violence ever a means to an end? Are we not innately violent creatures?

»?Chiurai’s posters can be seen at Co-Op in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, until mid-July

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