Kudzanai Chiurai

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa
V&A Waterfront, Silo District, S Arm Road
September 22–March 31

View of “Kudzanai Chiurai: Regarding the Ease of Others,” 2017–2018. Center: “Conflict Resolution,” 2012.

“You can’t escape politics,” Kudzanai Chiurai once said to CNN, not that anyone who has followed his meteoric rise to fame would ever accuse him of skirting the issues. Since gaining notoriety (and status as a political exile) for an incendiary portrait of Robert MugabeAbuse of Power, 2009—the thirty-six-year-old Zimbabwean multimedia artist has galvanized contemporary African artists to engage such thorny subjects as corruption, xenophobia, and internecine conflict. His arresting exhibition at this newly inaugurated institution, Cape Town’s first museum of contemporary art, brings together key bodies of work from the past decade or so, including excerpts from his 2012 series “Conflict Resolution” that were shown at Documenta 13.

In what might be a reference to Susan Sontag’s 2003 book on war photography, Regarding the Pain of Others, the show’s title, “Regarding the Ease of Others,” alerts us to the indivisible problem of subjectivity. Like Sontag, Chiurai is concerned with the gendered authorship of history and constructs alternative narratives. His glossy, highly stylized tableaux of fictional militant groups, where women are illustrated as central figures of influence, shine a light on the typically masculine poetics of power and war. Shrewd and often humorous lithographs and photographs of fictional African leaders in his series “Dying to Be Men,” 2009, and “Revelations,” 2011, explore what one might call the iconography of despotism—corybantic warlords and politicians replete with AK-47s, gold chains, and fur coats.

The selection of videos, photographs, drawings, posters, and paintings presented in this survey mount a sustained critique of the Christian and colonial narratives that still mark the political, economic, and social conditions of present-day southern Africa; together, they offer a coruscating meditation on power, paternalism, and patriarchy, while reflecting on symbols of democracy—and their misappropriation.

Genevieve Allison

Shreyas Karle

Project 88
Narayan A Sawant Road, Colaba, BMP Building, Gound Floor
January 31–March 3

View of “Shreyas Karle: Unnecessary alcove,” 2018.

A fluorescent-pink hose angles up to the ceiling only to fall back to the floor, slumping into an awkward pile. This item—Frustrated gardener, 2017—is placed opposite a two-legged terra-cotta horse pressed between two sheets of museum glass. As the title explains, it is busy Performing under pressure in the museum of broken objects, 2018. Shreyas Karle’s exhibition “Unnecessary alcove” is a museological display stripped of embellishments. The titles of the works are revealing, and if you read them quickly in sequence you end up with a verse full of hot anxiety and flat aspiration: Gap by the filler, of the filler and for the filler, 2017, / Two cuts, two joints, 2018, / Slipped, 2018, / Needless Precision, 2017, / Tile is a man-made slope, 2018.

The objects are finely crafted but not precious. Moreover, each has the potential to be overlooked: Protection for a curved corner, 2017, is a thin sleeve of toughened glass propped against an iron pillar, which is hardly any protection at all given that it appears unnervingly close to being knocked over by an unsuspecting passerby. Therapy for an abandoned piece, 2018, is simply a block of wood, flaky with wax and polish, while Rolled weight and rebellion corners, 2018, is a thin brass sheet, half unrolled, and charming in the way only the clumsy can be. The artist seems to be interested in presenting a kind of syntax, or rather artwork as syntax, coded by its internal grammar, rather than fully formed, wholly erudite works. Each piece appears in plump bursts, witty and highly strung.

Skye Arundhati Thomas

Abir Karmakar

Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke
16/18 Mereweather Road, (Behind Taj Mahal Hotel), Colaba, 2 Sunny House
November 15–February 28

Abir Karmakar, Displacement (Wall III), 2017, oil on canvas, 96 x 92".

“Home is so sad,” Philip Larkin wrote in 1958. “It stays as it was left, / Shaped to the comfort of the last to go / As if to win them back.” The large-scale oil paintings in Abir Karmakar’s exhibition “Displacement” capture the timbre of one such household, an Indian family’s, with aching precision. Largely freestanding upon wooden supports, the hyperrealistic canvases create trompe l’oeil rooms within the gallery even as they gesture to the way we stage domestic backdrops for our own lives. The specificities of Indian decor are typified in astonishing detail. Here are the Hindu gods and goddesses in jaunty frames and calendars and the synthetic knockoffs of Ayurvedic skincare, and here too is the pocked metal cupboard and high suitcase shelf, along with that terribly Desi predilection for installing bare fluorescents over doors, as evinced by Displacement (Wall III), 2017. Though here, unlike in the case of a migrant family to which the show’s title alludes, all doorways are open for us to walk through. A viewer less familiar with local customs might find this show frustratingly opaque. Yet in the warmth slanting through barred, half-tinted windows, perhaps you, too could imagine yourself at home here.

Consider a swollen sun breaking over inclement waves, or dappling prettily across hedgerowed meadows. Do these things even move you anymore? Really, the only quality of light that feels poignant these days is in its interactions with the petro-derivative products of our present. A gummy protective film around the water filter, for example, or catching the scuffed, quintessentially Indian botanical patterns on the refrigerator, or reflecting off a portly CRT TV—all scenes that are represented here. Like the best fiction, these paintings have the effect of bringing the outside world into focus, reminding the viewer of things they might have forgotten or never even knew. You can see how it was: Look at the deadbolts and the wall socket. The collectibles in the glass-fronted cabinets. That plant.

Rahel Aima

Miyako Ishiuchi

Yokohama Museum of Art
3-4-1, Minatomirai, Nishi-Ku
December 9–March 4

Miyako Ishiuchi, Yokosuka Story #58 1976–77, gelatin silver print, 18 x 22''. From the series “Yokosuka Story,” 1976–77.

In this retrospective of the influential photographer Miyako Ishiuchi, her most famous work is left for the end: the series “ひ ろ し ま / hiroshima,” 2007–, vivid color stills of clothing and relics of victims of the 1945 bombing. A delicate white dress floats against a blank backdrop, stained, as it was peeled off charred flesh. On Barack and Michelle Obama’s state visit to Japan in 2016, the First Lady was presented with a memorial catalogue of these works, which she received with quiet respect. One can only wonder what the current US president would have said.

A sequence of color-coded rooms, which trace a life cycle of the everyday, begins amid the dilapidated postindustrial ruins of Yokohama in the 1970s. Ishiuchi’s trademark grainy black-and-white shots foreground texture, such as that of buildings or sky. As a strategy, its effects are even more vivid in her photography of old, wrinkled bodies—the feet and hands of the Butoh dancer Kazuo Ohno in the 1991–93 series “1906 to the skin”—and of scars, as in “Innocence,” 1994–2017, painful images of faceless women who have suffered physical injury. Surgeries, accidents, cuts, and burns—we pray our bodies will stay pristine, but they do not, as life wears on.

A biographical coda is found in a separate gallery: her first series, “Yokosuka Story,” 1976–77, which features ominous studies of the back alleys of this port dominated by an American naval base. Everything looks rainy and polluted, with the prostitution, sex clubs, and burly US serviceman just off-camera. This was how she started as a young artist, walking the streets.

Adrian Favell

Khalil Rabah

Sfeir-Semler Gallery | Beirut
Tannous Building, 4th Floor, Street 56 Jisr Sector 77
January 18–April 7

Khalil Rabah, view of “The Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind,” 1995–, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Despite swelling regional unrest and economic stagnation, the museum boom of the former capital of Arab letters lingers on with Khalil Rabah’s Broodthaersian fictional enterprise, “The Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind,” 1995–. For its most comprehensive presentation in Beirut, the museum debuts a new installation within the Anthropology Department, in addition to bringing together new and old works in all four wings.

Rabah’s project has long moved on from being a tongue-in-cheek museological intervention aimed at introducing a voice and narrative for compatriots who lacked such institutions under Israeli occupation until very recently (the Yasser Arafat Museum and the Palestinian Museum were founded in 2016). In fact, the entrance display in the gallery, showcasing the series “Hide Geographies,” 2017, reveals a self-reflexive institutional critique: Here, four patchwork-style embroidered fabrics in bright red, green, and blue encapsulate the departments on view, tracing the outlines of the Gaza Strip (Geology and Paleontology Department), the West Bank (Botanical Department), the Dead Sea (Earth and the Solar System Department), and the Nova Palestina favela in Brazil (Anthropology Department). Rather than merely engaging mise en abyme as representations of a representation, these maps actively probe, with their imposing size, the possibility of museification as a prohibitive closure—in this case, against a sophisticated understanding of a severely oppressed people.

A double bill of revelation and concealment is similarly at play in the Anthropology Department: In Acampamento Vila Nova Palestina, 2017, the human figures in a quadriptych of large oil paintings, based on photographs of the titular So Paulo favela thriving on unoccupied terrain, are cut out, mimicking the violent power dynamics of certain outmoded anthropological approaches. Yet the work also seems to suggest that internationalization in content (or branches, as in “global” museums) does not necessitate surrendering to marketization—but that it can also be an act of solidarity across and beyond nations.

Gkcan Demirkazık

“Les Visitants”

Centro Cultural Kirchner
Sarmiento 151 (C1041AAC)
October 18–June 24

Guillermo Kuitca, David’s Living Room Revisited, 2014, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view, Centro Cutural Kirchner, Buenos Aires.

To what extent does sex drive determine the tone chosen for a carpet? And how much death drive is at play in the choice of a wall color? Guillermo Kuitca seems to have contemplated the unconscious inquiries that underlie interior design when he prepared this selection of works from Paris’s Fondation Cartier, translating questions of architectonic process into interrogations of the psychic terrains we inhabit. Often turning to now-classic images by artists such as Wolfgang Tillmans, Juergen Teller, Nan Goldin, and Nobuyoshi Araki—the exhibition includes a great deal of photography—Kuitca has filled twelve galleries with works that plunge viewers into the erotic and ominous aspects of daily life.

For instance, while a sculpture by Adriana Varejo titled Linda de Lapa (Beauty from Lapa), 2004, is ostensibly rubble—a corner depicting three tiled domestic interiors, one red, one white, and one green—a closer inspection reveals that the debris isn’t made of brick or cement; the structure’s exposed materials resemble flesh and innards. With that surreal twist, Varejo spoils the aesthetic aspirations of the Minimalist grid.

Themes of macabre mundanity continue in David’s Living Room Revisited, 2014, a black-and-scarlet muraled room designed by Kuitca inspired by a drawing David Lynch made for “The Air Is on Fire,” a retrospective of the auteur’s paintings, drawings, and photographs organized at the Fondation Cartier in 2007. The installation contains drawings, paintings, and furniture by Lynch and a sound piece he made with Patti Smith (Falling Backwards Once Again, 2011). The space is dreamlike, mysterious, and somewhat suffocating.

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.

M.S. Dansey