Critics’ Picks

Kudzanai Chiurai, We Live in Silence, 2017, video, color, sound, 37 minutes.

Los Angeles

“Inheritance: Recent Video Art from Africa”

Fowler Museum at UCLA
308 Charles E Young Dr N
February 17–July 28, 2019

You can’t understand a whole continent from a handful of stories, but the thoughtful and smartly installed exhibition “Inheritance: Recent Video Art from Africa” offers several sustained meditations on how certain histories of Africa might be viewed through a postcolonial lens.

In Mikhael Subotzky’s WYE, 2016, a trio of unreliable narrators delivers a cluster of stories set in an isolated coastal site in South Africa at three distinct moments in time: an early colonial past, the present, and a slightly speculative future. Each narrative pivots on the questionable use of a specific technology—a willow divining rod, a metal detector, and a computer—to try to rewrite history or commandeer resources, whether water, land, or artifacts. The striking installation of the large-scale video triptych implicates viewers in the long history of colonization by inviting them to passively witness the unfolding spectacle while seated in comfortable beach chairs, stationed in substantial quantities of actual sand that mirrors the environment of the video itself.

Through lush, stylized scenes, Kudzanai Chiurai’s large projection We Live in Silence: Chapters 1–7, 2017, further represents the agonistic outcomes of colonial encounters but unsettles the expected power dynamics by putting the words of white male imperialists in the mouths of native black females. Their images are intercut with a series of darkened Christian tableaux vivants (for example, the Last Supper), which reference the religious context of many colonial missions.

Zina Saro-Wiwa takes a more direct approach to describing the history of a particular locale:Table Manners, Season 1, 2014–16, and Table Manners, Season 2, 2018­–, are displayed across eight monitors, featuring individuals intimately facing the viewer and sensuously consuming traditional dishes of the Niger Delta Ogoni.

In its emphasis on works structured around multiple perspectives, timescales, and narratives, “Inheritance” meaningfully bridges the Fowler’s mission to examine the past and present of non-Western art.