Critics’ Picks

  • View of “Kevin Beasley,” 2020, A4 Arts Foundation, Cape Town. Photo: Kyle Morland.

    View of “Kevin Beasley,” 2020, A4 Arts Foundation, Cape Town. Photo: Kyle Morland.

    Kevin Beasley

    A4 Arts Foundation
    23‭ ‬Buitenkant Street District Six
    February 6–April 30, 2020

    In the month leading up to his exhibition of new sculpture, works on paper, landscape photographs, and an audio installation, A4 resident artist Kevin Beasley converted the second-floor gallery into a working studio. Over time, the space became cluttered with objects: a complete set of the defunct arts magazine ADA, fishing net buoys, cast-off garments, a brass bell. But for the printed matter, these items form the base of an untitled figural totem (all works 2020) topped off with floral dresses and denim jeans, set in resin and suspended through a service hatch that connects the space’s floors. Many of Beasley’s sculptures are bricolages of assembled junk, scavengers’ hauls that include materials like seaweed and animal horns, although bits of apparel reappear most often, strikingly in six figural arrangements suggestive of clothed human forms, though they are absent of bodies.

    Beasley subtly reframes the history and politics of cotton that informed his 2018 solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art to address a local economic truth: Africa is a net exporter of cotton but a net importer of textiles and clothing, most notoriously of Western cast-offs. Presented vertically in the manner of Japanese artist Shinro Ohtake’s assemblages, the large-scale “slab sculptures” California South Africa and Arizona South Africa, both composed of “aid-to-trade” garments, take their titles from inscriptions on T-shirts entombed in resin. An earthen-colored block containing fifty tightly packed wooden figurines acquired from a craft wholesaler, the only piece installed on a plinth, presents like a core sample of the African Anthropocene. Human subjects are mostly implied in Beasley’s works, though one photo, Zola, depicts a young black skateboarder at ease in a suburban environment framed by a craggy mountain. The pristine cement architecture of the skate park echoes across four plywood replicas of concrete road barriers, one with a housedress draped over it. Nine all-black works on paper share a continuous title that quotes descriptions of avian plumage. Their refusal of a figural subject is echoed in the exhibition’s titular work, without a clear discernible image, an urban soundscape that registers only vestigial human presences.

  • Gabrielle Goliath, This song is for...Sinesipho Lakani (Save the hero, Beyoncé), 2019, HD video and sound installation, 16 minutes 6 seconds.

    Gabrielle Goliath, This song is for...Sinesipho Lakani (Save the hero, Beyoncé), 2019, HD video and sound installation, 16 minutes 6 seconds.

    Gabrielle Goliath

    South African National Gallery
    Government Avenue, Company's Garden
    October 25, 2019–April 27, 2020

    Last September, South African women wearing black and holding placards angrily picketed the parliament in Cape Town after the brutal rape and murder of university student Uyinene Mrwetyana. Two months later, Gabrielle Goliath’s multimedia installation, “This song is for…,” 2019—an immersive, durational, and ultimately recuperative engagement with the country’s grim rape crisis—opened in this venue adjacent to parliament. Goliath’s elegiac installation occupies two empurpled rooms, and builds from earlier collective works exploring brutality against women. Two sets of collaborators lend their experiences to this work: eleven rape survivors, whose varied reflections, excerpted in individual wall texts, particularize instances of sexual violence, and a group of musicians, tasked with interpreting a meaningful song selected by each survivor. A two-channel film displayed in the second, larger room shows these musicians—either women alone or in ensembles led by women or gender-nonconforming bandleaders—performing traditional hymns and pop songs by, among others, Beyoncé, Michael Jackson, and Rachel Platten.

    Music is mnemonic; it evokes times, places, and incidents. Goliath’s installation uses this conceit but makes a strategic intervention. The delivery of each of song is disturbed by a sudden and prolonged repetition of a line. “Unstoppable today, I’m unstoppable today,” singer Nonku Phiri endlessly repeats in her adaptation of Sia’s 2016 feminist anthem “Unstoppable,” selected by Pat Hutchinson, who describes being raped by four men while seeking directions to a hospital where her friend was giving birth. Phiri’s stutter distends and contorts the song’s sassy narrative, almost sundering it. These “sonic disruptions,” as Goliath terms them, stretch her eleven-song cycle to more than three hours, amplifying the work’s sense of lament. A warped sense of time also infuses the narratives of victims, like Karen Howell, who doggedly, over many years, challenged a dysfunctional legal system until her two rapists were jailed. Closure, though, is often unattainable. “My life has never been the same,” reads Sinesipho Lakani’s text. “I’m broken.” Unable to offer justice, Goliath instead maps a way forward, together, on the difficult path to healing.