South African artists shine at Venice showcase

2017-05-14 09:56
Candice Breitz, Mohau Modisakeng

Johannesburg - The opening night of the South African Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale – one of the world’s most prestigious contemporary art events – went into glamour overdrive when businesswoman and former beauty queen Basetsana Kumalo cut the ribbon.

But Kumalo was not just an invited guest – she was also the show’s executive producer.

Looking stylish in a purple-and-black lace cocktail dress by Ursula Ntsubane, the founder of Destiny Moon Prints, Kumalo welcomed guests to the show, which exhibited two new works by artists Mohau Modisakeng and Candice Breitz.

“It is indeed incredible to witness our country’s talent on this international platform, in what is known as the Olympics of the Arts. This year, 85 countries are represented!” she said on Instagram.

Modisakeng’s and Breitz’s works focus on Europe’s refugee crisis through video projections on the walls of a historic villa in the sinking city Modisakeng’s multichannel creation, called Passage, features three screens. A person lies floating in a boat in each screen.

“The characters have unique characteristics: a man in a trilby hat; a woman wrapped in a Basotho blanket; and a woman with a hawk. As the work progresses, the figures and boats are flooded by water, leaving them submerged until the boats disappear,” said entrepreneur and publisher Uno De Waal, who attended the opening.

Biennale Arte 2017 opens to the public today! Installation Image: 'Passage' by Mohau Modisakeng #SAVenice2017 #biennalearte2017

A post shared by The South African Pavilion (@sa_pavilion) on

Breitz, who is known for appropriating video from popular culture as part of her artistic oeuvre, again used celebrities to get her message across. This time, actors Alec Baldwin and Julianne Moore are central to her piece, Love Story, which is made up of multiple screens. In them, the actors mimic six interviews Breitz did with refugees she met in New York, Berlin and Cape Town.

“Suspending viewers between gritty first-hand accounts of people who would typically remain nameless and faceless in the media, and an accessible drama featuring two actors who are the very embodiment of visibility, Love Story questions how and where our attention is focused,” Breitz said of the work.

Watch a trailer for Love Story here:

News and social media praised the exhibition, with major international arts website Artsy ranking the SA Pavilion in the top 11 of all the 51 pavilions on show, calling it “one of the most powerful installations to address forced migration at the Biennale, where it is a frequent theme”.

The SA Pavilion has previously been mired in controversy, with misappropriation of funds, late openings and racist artworks finding the spotlight for the wrong reasons. It seems this year’s event went off without a hitch.

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