There is no good news to report on from South Africa. Three recent occurrences have shown that at the age of 21, South Africa’s democracy, is still many years away from its maturity. The recurrence of xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals is perhaps the most disturbing of the three. The removal of the statue of Cecil John Rhodes no doubt had the most positive end to it. While the ongoing saga of South Africa’s participation at the Venice Biennale is like slowly developing trench foot while watching Sisyphus play out his fate to the sounds of a dirge played on a kazoo in unforgivingly inclement weather.
‘Historical memory’ was on everybody’s lips after a student at the University of Cape Town expressed his displeasure at the presence of a statue at UCT of the colonialist Cecil John Rhodes by dowsing it in excrement. The sentiment fast grew into what would become the #Rhodesmustfall movement. What the movement did was to expose the lack of transformation at South Africa’s premier university while also questioning just how a country should remember. This came at a time when both the British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro and the Zimbabwean artist Dan Halter coincidently produced works that tied in perfectly with this idea.
Burning Museum is one of the many South African art collectives who are choosing to operate largely outside of commercial galleries. Much like the #Rhodesmustfall movement their interests lie in how current South African governance has failed to recognise and redress both history and social imbalances. As Tim Leibbrandt writes, with wheat paste and the enlarged photocopies of a photographic archive ‘the collective aims to challenge any narrative which serves to overwrite or re-write the injustices of the past.’
Overt South African politics does however take a little bit of a back seat when one encounters the work of Pierre Fouché and his creations in lace. And as Anna Stielau suggests Fouché’s decision to work in lace and thread is one not without complications: there are by all accounts few thimbles than can fit his size fingers and it is certainly one with many interpersonal complications. However his subject matter is far from sedate, from his ‘fallen men’ to ‘His Foam White Arms’ Fouché has threaded together a highly skilled and nuanced exhibition which is both deeply arresting and at times challenging.
The Department of Arts and Culture and their selection of the curator for the South African Pavilion at the Venice Biennale has been heading towards the superlative: from corrupt, to incompetent, to plain old just more incompetent. In 2011 South Africa’s first participation since 1995 was mired in corruption and the uncovering of faked invoices. In 2013 it went down to the wire with the curator having only two months to pull it together, producing what one critic called a ‘curatorial fruit salad’ of eighteen artists. Like the 2013 curators, and certain stay-at-home Sunday-painters, the 2015 curators yet again seem influenced by the charms and diversity of the fruit bowl, but this time they were announced with only just over three weeks to go.
Online exclusive published 23 April 2015.