Critics’ Picks

Anton Kannemeyer, I Love the White Middle Class . . . , 2008, acrylic on canvas, 47 x 47”.

Anton Kannemeyer, I Love the White Middle Class . . . , 2008, acrylic on canvas, 47 x 47”.

Helsinki

“Peekaboo – Current South Africa”

Helsinki City Art Museum
Kluuvi Gallery Unioninkatu 28 B
August 20, 2010–January 16, 2011

My favorite works in “Peekaboo – Current South Africa” are Daniel Naudé’s large photographs of lean, sinewy wild dogs taken in the deserts of South Africa. According to legend, the dogs originated in the courts of the ancient pharaohs and over the centuries have roamed the length of Africa. In this exhibition, which is all about identity, migration, and survival, these impressive images can be seen as a striking metaphor for the continent’s troubled history.

The twenty artists selected by chief curator Erja Pusa seem to be asking, What is South Africa and who are we? If there are any lasting answers, they are sure to be as complicated as life in postapartheid society. Judging by the art shown here, South African artists find balance at a point somewhere between black Africa and the white West, employing elements from both traditions to create eclectic amalgams. Good examples are Wim Botha, with his mirror image of Michelangelo’s Pietà made out of traditional maize meal, and Anton Kannemeyer, who borrows the style of Hergé, creator of Tintin, in his pointedly satirical paintings.

While Kannemeyer challenges both Western stereotypes of Africa and the images that some Africans have of themselves, artists such as Jane Alexander and Mikhael Subotzky focus on problematic aspects of society, including violence, insecurity, and overcrowded prisons. But not everyone in South Africa is a satirist or without hope. Nontsikelelo Veleko’s photos of Johannesburg graffiti and street fashion hint at a brighter future and a stronger, more self-generated synthesis.