Critics’ Picks

  • Cinga Samson, iRhorho 2, 2019, oil on canvas, 33 x 25 x 2 1/2".

    Cinga Samson

    blank projects
    10 Lewin Street, Woodstock
    May 30–July 27

    Beauty is a key aspiration for Cinga Samson, whose exhibition “NaluLwandle, NaliKhaya” (Here’s the Sea, Here’s Home) includes his lauded Afro-gothic portraits of lone, blank-eyed male subjects. Stylistically, Samson’s flatly painted canvases, with their clearly delineated figures in architectonic landscapes, sit somewhere between the magical amateurism of Henri Rousseau and the gregarious figuration of Kerry James Marshall. iRhorho 1–6 (all works 2019) comprises six three-quarter portraits of young men posed in generic rural landscapes, though the scenography is less important than the brilliantly observed minutiae that complicate each work: an untied belt, a half-peeled fruit, a pair of purple sneakers, a cocktail umbrella. A crepuscular study of a shirtless man wearing only a gold chain (isibawu 3) tantalizes for its stripped-down simplicity and seductive pageant of campy exuberance, comportment, and fragility.

    The centerpieces of this exhibition are three large canvases, Izilo Zomlambo 1–3, that loosely reimagine a traumatic family story of an aunt who drowned but was later resurrected from the dead by a shaman. The rural context of the original tale has, however, been given a makeover. Working with a group of friends wearing only distressed blue jeans and the odd scarf, the artist choreographed a sequence of portraits on a beach at Bakoven, an exclusive Atlantic suburb of Cape Town, which Samson translated into enigmatic tableaux vivants in his studio. Izilo Zomlambo 2 depicts a central figure ritualistically holding a human skull and flanked by twelve youths; two lilac flowers arc through the gray sky. These ambitious new works invoke Paul Cézanne’s The Large Bathers, 1898, but also recall the oeuvre of Deborah Poynton, a contemporary realist painter who typically portrays her white subjects in verdant Cape Town settings. Samson similarly transforms an exclusive littoral into a magical elsewhere in which youth, community, sacrament, and beauty coincide.

  • Loyiso Mkize, Exodus: The Heroic Age, 2018, ink on paper, 11 1/2 x 21'.

    “Still Here Tomorrow to High Five You Today”

    Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa
    V&A Waterfront, Silo District, S Arm Road
    January 30–June 30

    The wall texts for this exhibition of work by nearly two dozen artists engaging with African time, myth, and futurity draw from a durable pantheon of speculative thinkers—among them Ben Okri, Sun Ra, and Octavia Butler—to elaborate thematic displays spread throughout seven rooms. Curator Azu Nwagbogu extracted his title, however, from an eccentric monologue by the Royal Tart Toter, an aging gingerbread man in the animated series Adventure Time. The reference is fitting. Western pop flotsam has been washing up all across the globe for decades, including in pre-independence Senegal.

    Senegalese artist Abdoulaye Ndiaye’s twenty-three paintings from the 1940s and ’50s reproduce, in loose, signwriter’s freehand, buff superheroes, B-movie monsters, and, joyfully, the outraged moon first described by Georges Méliès. Abdoulaye’s panel paintings are installed adjacent to South African Loyiso Mkize’s ink-on-paper mural Exodus: The Heroic Age, 2018, a hagiography that includes Nelson Mandela, Mad Max-era Tina Turner, and Senegalese architect Pierre Goudiaby Atepa’s puzzling African Renaissance Monument in Dakar, here tweaked so that the central figure appears as a black Superman.

    Comics also inform the work of American Kumasi J. Barnett, whose neon text sculpture The Amazing Black Man, 2018, is a Pop counterpoint to South African Atang Tshikare’s seven painstaking drawings of hybrid animal-plant forms based on Tswana myth: Leano la polao (Underhanded Preying), 2018, depicts two subterranean figures with cloven hoofs. These headless beings resemble Tshikare’s biomorphic sculpture Itjhebe, 2018, made from wood, beads, and woven reeds. Two nearly canonical Afrofuturist works anchor the show: Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu’s dystopian fantasy Pumzi, 2010, a short film about a dreamy botanist, and fourteen photographs from Cristina de Middel’s The Afronauts, 2012, a fantastical, multimedia retelling of the space age’s impact on Zambian science teacher Edward Makuka.