“Dress Code”

Gallery MOMO | Cape Town
170 Buitengracht St
May 11, 2017–June 17, 2017

Sethembile Msezane, Chapungu- The Return to Great Zimbabwe, 2015, ink-jet print, 44 x 36".

The carnivalesque mood in Cape Town during the 2015 removal of a statue of colonial oligarch Cecil John Rhodes was well documented—a far cry from recent US news photos showing contractors clad in balaclavas and bulletproof vests removing Confederate bronzes in New Orleans by night. Among the many images of Rhodes’s effigy being hoisted off its pedestal, Sethembile Msezane’s color photograph Chapungu- The Day Rhodes Fell, 2015, represents a perspicacious act of witnessing. It shows the costumed artist, her arms outstretched, posed on a mobile plinth; tellingly, her back is turned to the events being witnessed by the large crowd. Msezane’s costume, a beaded headdress and feathered arm adornments, references a bird motif, once appropriated by Rhodes [for?], from stone sculptures found at Great Zimbabwe, a long-derelict settlement the artist visited for a performance and documented in the photograph Chapungu- The Return to Great Zimbabwe, 2015, also on view.

Costumes and role-play are prevalent in this exhibition, which thoughtfully pairs emerging artists such as Msezane with gallery-stable artists such as Mary Sibande and Ayana V. Jackson, both represented by polished studio portraits of female protagonists. Rubber Sole Monument of Aspiration, 2009, is typical of Sibande’s no-frills documentation of her sculptures depicting baroquely costumed black women. Jackson’s umber-hued historical self-portraiture, on view in Tignon and Iqhiya, both 2015, builds a bridge to Maurice Mbikayi’s portrait The Political Aesthete, 2016, which shows the Congolese sculptor wearing an elaborate suit festooned with keyboard buttons. Francois Knoetze’s bodysuits are also fashioned from consumer waste but eschew sartorial elegance. Two pictures showcasing his junk costumes flank his short video Cape Mongo (Metal), 2015, a rambunctious eco-documentary framed by a passage through an unlovely Cape Town.

— Sean O'Toole