Critics’ Picks

  • View of Kendell Geers’s “Kendell Geers: In Gozi We Trust,” 2019–20.

    View of Kendell Geers’s “Kendell Geers: In Gozi We Trust,” 2019–20.

    Kendell Geers

    Goodman Gallery | Johannesburg
    163 Jan Smuts Avenue
    November 23, 2019–January 25, 2020

    <span style=“color: black;”>Kendell Geers’s latest exhibition is a critical mess of contradictions drawn together in subtle and encyclopedic ways. While the South African conceptualist’s familiar dreads—white suburban paranoia and the vestiges of apartheid—still attend “In Gozi We Trust,” he has broadened his view to accommodate Christian symbolism, anarchism, mysticism, and Egyptology. Visitors will likely either be overawed by what appears to be a rich and multidirectional swipe at postapartheid malaise or totally flummoxed by an ornate and centrifugal posture. With his exhibition title, Geers is obviously riffing on the religious dictum “In God We Trust,” which in its Christian form instantiates the theistic faith of the believer. The subject here, however, is not a real word, but rather plays, or preys, on three semi-related terms:<span class=“apple-converted-space”> </span>ingozi<span class=“apple-converted-space”> </span>(Zulu for danger),<span class=“apple-converted-space”> </span>Jozi<span class=“apple-converted-space”> </span>(Johannesburg), and<span class=“apple-converted-space”> </span>minkisi<span class=“apple-converted-space”> </span>(Central African religious wooden figurines).</span>

    <span style=“color: black;”>As if to guard against this “danger,” razor wire recurs in this exhibition’s imagery. Yet it remains unclear who, or what, is dangerous. Is it the terrorist, the immigrant, the poor black, the white suburban native, the gallerygoer? Who is walled out, and who is walled in? Arousing equal curiosity is the role Africa and its objects play in this work—part neo-Tarzanist, part Senghorian. If Africa exists here, it is only as metaphor or distortion. Metal provides a motif—rust-on-paper works inspired by African masquerade, bronze reconstructions of masks, pairs of gilded or copper cruciform police batons—but the most compelling display is “Daemon Est Deus Inversus,” 2019. In these acidic, mirror-image paintings, crisp demands (“RIOT,” “PRAY,” “TAKE TIME”) backdrop veiny trees and razor wire. Their playful pop quickly turns ominous, each picture like a jeering taunt at Afrikaner nationalism. Although less confrontational than the provocations for which Geers rose to global prominence, and despite its limited perspective, “In Gozi We Trust” charts an earnest attempt to grapple with belief in postapartheid South Africa.</span>