Andrew Hennlich, Ph.D, Curator
After the Thrill is Gone: Fashion, Politics and Culture in Contemporary South African Art features fourteen artists who read the political climate of post-apartheid South Africa through fashion’s embrace of the “new.” Signaling an end to race-based legislation and the often violent, discriminatory practices of apartheid and its colonial antecedents, Nelson Mandela’s victory in the 1994 elections marked the transition toward a new South Africa.
Similar to the use of quotation and repetition in fashion—modes endlessly reiterated each season—South Africa’s continued legacies of dispossession and inequality render the present day country insubstantially different from its apartheid predecessor. These cycles of repetition expose the reality of South Africa’s social conditions. And yet, despite fashion’s appearance as unchanging, its capacity to anticipate the future endows it with a power to radically transform the present.
The artists in After the Thrill is Gone use fashion to shape narratives of representation, identity, memory, xenophobia, violence in the domestic sphere, and allegories of nationalism. Both individually and collectively, these artists locate fashion as a political language and reinterpret the historical terrain of South Africa after the thrill of apartheid’s end is gone.
Artists in the exhibition include Kudzanai Chiurai, Julia Rosa Clark, Hasan & Husain Essop, Pierre Fouché, Gabrielle Goliath, Haroon Gunn-Salie, Daniel Halter, Nicholas Hlobo, Gerald Machona, Mohau Modisakeng, Athi-Patra Ruga, and Mary Sibande.
After the Thrill is Gone: Fashion, Politics and Culture in Contemporary South African Art
In 1990 Nelson Mandela appeared from the gates of Victor Verster Prison in Paarl, South Africa, freed after twenty-seven years of imprisonment for conspiring to overthrow the country’s apartheid government. Mandela’s release signaled a major step to the legal dismantling of apartheid, realized through his election as President of South Africa in 1994 and the promulgation of the country’s Constitution in 1996. After nearly fty years of apartheid’s racist segregation, dispossession, and violence—built upon an enduring history of racial-legislation during colonization and as a Union— Mandela’s election presaged a “new” South Africa founded on universal suffrage, the protection of human dignity, non-racialism and non-sexism.
As leader of the African National Congress (ANC), Mandela drew on the party’s socialist critique of apartheid’s economic and racial injustices. And yet, in power, the ANC committed to a program of deregulation and privatization, contributing to South Africa’s staggering rates of unemployment and wealth inequality, which remain among the world’s highest. Despite constitutional guarantees regarding housing, health care, and rights to food and water, South Africa’s poor struggle constantly for access to basic services. Moreover, violence continues to characterize life in South Africa, including high rates of domestic partner violence, hostility towards immigrants, and such events as the Marikana Massacre in 2012, during which police opened re and killed thirty-four strikers at the Lonmin platinum mine, the most lethal act of state violence since the Sowetho Uprising in 1976.
In 2014, celebrations commemorating “twenty years of democracy” saturated public life in South African cities. Yet the jubilee recognizing two decades of newness was paradoxical, concealing the conditions of “bare life” or what the Italian philosopher Giorio Agamben de nes as an existence sustained by meagre conditions of mere survival, beyond any inclusion into a political and social community. Economic inequality and exclusion leave no doubt that South Africa continues to be haunted by the injustices of its colonial and apartheid past leaving many of its citizens in a condition of bare life.
The exhibition After the Thrill is Gone brings together fourteen artists who began their careers after the end of apartheid—individuals who subsequently work within the socio-political conditions of the so-called “new.” Materially and metaphorically, these artists reference fashion, textile and the sartorial
to engage and represent the social and political realities of South Africa. In fashion, as in post-apartheid South Africa, “newness” endures as a central concept. The German essayist and cultural critic Walter Benjamin described fashion as a form of novelty, an “eternal return of the same,” to emphasize its centrality within 19th century Parisian consumer capitalism. Despite fashion’s frenzied changes from each season to the next, Benjamin argued that the material condition of Paris remained the same, rendering fashion an ideology of the ruling class.
By perpetuating the old as new, fashion’s circulation becomes critique in South Africa, often exposing the falsity of post-apartheid’s novelty. Fashion, however, as a “tiger’s leap,” continues to move asynchronously through history, citing the past and endowing it with a revolutionary potential—think of the contemporary interest in Renaissance velvet dresses or 1990’s chokers en mode this season. Just as Alexander McQueen appropriated Victorian silhouettes in his conceptual collections, Jacobins during the French Revolution cited the Roman Empire as a model for transformation, thus insisting on fashion as politics. By breaking with linear narratives of continuity, the tiger’s-leap simultaneously ruptures discourses of progress, and borrows from the past to see the future. As Benjamin described, “Each season brings, in its newest creations, various secret signals of things to come,” subsequently emphasizing fashion’s capacity for anticipating and crafting the future.
If fashion is a prophecy, undoing the static principles of advancement and inherited traditions, it is also a form of memory-work for Benjamin. In an essay on Marcel Proust, Benjamin compares the dialectic of remembering and forgetting to the weft and warp of a loom. Weaving, a metaphor that appears throughout Benjamin’s writings, evokes the labor of the storyteller, who reinvents history in each telling. Benjamin also references weaving and threadwork to describe the practice of collecting as resistant to the neutralization of historicity, favoring the forgotten, the minor, and the disposable.
The artists in After the Thrill is Gone engage the unique and asynchronous temporality of fashion to understand the material conditions of post- apartheid newness. In doing so, the artists featured in After the Thrill is Gone uncover relationships between the past and the future as these two binaries are understood in the present. The exhibition also exposes the continued ways in which South Africa’s colonial and apartheid pasts haunt the present. These artists reinvent traditions, consider sartorial identity as representative of post-apartheid subjectivities, unearth the material and social realities of the now, and harness new possibilities for the future.
Andrew J. Hennlich, Curator
Research for this exhibition was supported by funds from the Andy Warhol Foundation Curatorial Fellowship and the Faculty Research and Creative Activities Award, Western Michigan University.
Kudz an i Chiurai (b. 1981, Harare, Zimbabwe) was the first black student to earn a BA in Fine Art from the University of Pretoria, South Africa. His work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions including Figures & Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography ( Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK; 2011), Impressions from South Africa, 1965 to Now ( Museum of Modern Art, New York; 2011), The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Hell, Purgatory Revisited by Contemporary African Artists (MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main; 2014)and d ocumenta 13 ( Kassel, Germany; 2012) Cairo Biennale (Cairo, Egypt; 2010) and the Sundance Film Festival (Park City, Utah; 2013). He is represented by Goodman Gallery and is in the collection of MoMA, NY.
Julia Rosa Clark (b. 1975, Cape Town, South Africa) explores the fleeting nature of knowledge systems, often engulfing the entire gallery, using the floor, walls and ceiling as canvas . Her work has been featured in a variety of group exhibitions and collaborative projects; solo exhibitions include A Million Trillion Gazillion (Joao Ferreira Gallery, Cape Town; 2004-05); Hypocrite’s Lament (Joao Ferreira Gallery, Cape Town; 2008), Paradise Apparatus (2010), and the site specific installation Two Works (2015) both at WHATIFTHEWORLD Gallery, Cape Town.
Pierre Fouché (b. 1977, Pretoria, South Africa) earned his MA in Fine Arts (Cum Laude) from the University of Stellenbosch in 2006. His work has been featured in six solo exhibitions, including most recently in The Fallen and the Drowned at WHATIFTHEWORLD (2015). N umerous group exhibitions include Objects in Flux– Exploring the B oundaries of Craft (Boston Museum of Fine Art; 2015), Queer Threads (Leslie+Lohman Museum, New York; 2014), Brave New World (Iziko SA National Gallery, Cape Town; 2014). His awards and residencies include the 2006 ABSA L’atelier art competition r esidency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris and the 2014 Prohelvetia residency at IAAB, Basel .
Hassan and Husain Essop (b. 1985, Cape Town, South Africa), earned their postgraduate degrees from the University of Cape Town in 2012. Recent solo shows include Unrest for the Standard Bank Art Prize (South Africa; 2015). The Essops have appeared in several group shows, including the 9th African Photography Biennale (Bamako, Mali; 2009), Dak’Art (Dakar, Senegal; 2010), Figures & Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography ( Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK; 2011), and Power Play (Goodman Gallery, Cape Town; 2008).
Gabrielle Goliath (b. 1983 Kimberley, South Africa) earned an MAFA from the University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg, South Africa; 2011). Recent solo shows include Elegy (Goodman Gallery, Cape Town; 2015), Faces of War (Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg; 2014). Goliath has appeared in several solo shows including Dak’Art (Dakar, Senegal; 2012), Photoville (Tierney Fellowship Exhibit, New York, 2012), SPace: Currencies in Contemporary African Art (Museum Africa, Johannesbug; 2010). She is a recipient of the Tierney Fellowship Award, the Brait Everard Read Award 2007 and the Wits Martienssen Prize.
Haroon Gunn-Salie (b. 1989, Cape Town, South Africa) received his BA (hons.) at Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town in 2012. Recent solo shows include History After Apartheid, (Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg; 2015). Gunn-Salie has participated in many group shows including Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design (Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain; 2015 and Vitra Museum, and Weil am Rhein, Germany; 2014), Videobrasil (Sao Paulo, Brazil, 2015), What Remains is Tomorrow South African Pavilion, Venice Biennale (Venice, Italy; 2015). He was awarded the first ever SP-Arte/Videobrasil prize, designed to encourage and publicize the work of young artists whose research focuses on the debate surrounding the global south.
Dan Halter (b. 1977, Harare, Zimbabwe) received his BFA from Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town in 2001. Recent solo shows include The Original is Unfaithful to the Translation (2015), The Truth Lies Here (2012), and Double Entry (2010) all at WHATIFTHEWORLD Gallery, Cape Town South Africa. Group exhibitions include Migrations (National College of Art and Design, Dublin, Ireland; 2015), Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in Arts of Africa (Smithsonian, National Museum of African Art, Washington DC; 2014), VideoBrasil (Sao Paulo, Brazil, 2011), Dak’art (Dakar, Senegal; 2010), the 10th Havana Biennial (Havana, Cuba; 2009), and Guangzhou Triennial (Guangzhou, China; 2008).
Nicholas Hlobo (b. 1975, Cape Town, South Africa) received a fine arts degree from Technikon Witwatersrand in 2002. Solo shows include Nicholas Hlobo: Sculpture, Installation, Performance, Drawing (National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo, Norway; 2011), Umshotsho for the Standard Bank Art Prize (2010), Uhambo (Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom; 2008). Group shows include Public Intimacy: Art and Social Life in South Africa, (Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA; 2014), The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Hell, Purgatory Revisited by Contemporary African Artists (MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main; 2014), Biennale of Sydney (Sydney, Australia, 2012), La Triannale (Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France; 2012), Venice Biennale (Venice, Italy; 2014) and Touched (Liverpool Biennial, Liverpool, United Kingdom; 2010). He was the Tollman Award winner 2006, the Standard Bank Young Artist for Visual Art 2009, and the Rolex Visual Arts Protégé for 2010/11, working with Anish Kapoor as his mentor.
Gerald Machona (b. 1986, Zvishane, Zimbabwe) received a MFA in sculpture from Rhodes University in 2013. His first solo exhibition was Vabvakure (People From Far Away) (Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg; 2014). Group exhibitions include Sydney Biennial, (Sydney, Australia; 2016), What Remains is Tomorrow South African Pavilion, Venice Biennale (Venice, Italy; 2015), The Beautyful Ones (Nolan Judin Gallery, Berlin; 2013), and Making Way (Grahamstown National Arts Festival, Grahamstown, South Africa; 2012). Machona is also a recipient of a Mellon scholarship and is a member of the Visual and Performing Arts of Africa research group at Rhodes University.
Mohau Modisakeng (b. 1986, Soweto, South Africa) received his MFA from Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town in 2014. Solo exhibitions include ENDABENI (Gallerie Ron Mandos, Amsterdam; 2016), Ditaola (BRUNDYN+, Cape Town, South Africa, 2014), and Inzilo (FNB Joburg Art Fair, Johannesburg, South Africa; 2013). Group shows include Lyon Biennale (Lyon, France; 2015), DIS/PLACE (MOCADA, New York, United States; 2015), What Remains is Tomorrow South African Pavilion, Venice Biennale (Venice, Italy; 2015), Dak’Art, (Dakar, Senegal; 2012). Modisakeng has been awarded the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Art in 2016.
Athi-Patra Ruga- (b. 1984, Umtata, South Africa) recent solo exhibitions include Athi-Patra Ruga (Bass Museum of Art; Miami, 2016), Ilulwane, (Performa 11, New York City, New York; 2011). Recent group exhibitions include: AFRICA: Architecture, Culture and Identity (Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Louisiana, Denmark; 2015), The Elder of Azania, Solo Performance at the Johannesburg Pavilion (Venice Biennale, Venice; 2015), Imaginary Fact,South African Pavilion, (Venice Biennale, Venice; 2013), African Odysseys at (The Brass Artscape, Brussels, Belgium; 2014), Public Intimacy: Art and Social Life in South Africa, (Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA; 2014); The Film Will Always Be You: South African Artists on Screen (Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom; 2015), Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design (Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain, 2015 and Vitra Museum, and Weil am Rhein, Germany; 2014). Athi-Patra Ruga was also recently included in the Phaidon book ‘Younger Than Jesus’, a directory of over 500 of the world’s best artists under the age of 33.
Mary Sibande (b. 1982, Barberton, South Africa) received her Diploma in Fine Arts at the Witwatersrand Technikon (2004) and a B-Tech degree from the University of Johannesburg (2007). Recent solo exhibitions include Long Live the Dead Queen for the Standard Bank Art Prize (2010) and group shows, Venice Biennale (Venice, Italy, 2011), l’Exposition du Festival Mondial des Arts Nègres (Dakar, Senegal; 2010), ARS 11 (Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, Finland; 2011); (Re)construction: Contemporary art from South Africa (Museum of Contemporary Art, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; 2011); SPace: Currencies in Contemporary African Art (Museum Africa, Johannesburg; 2010)