When We See Us at Zeitz MOCAA in South Africa

Courtesy: Zeitz MOCAA

When We See Us which involves a show called Black Self-Representation Through Portraiture and Figuration in Painting is now on display at Zeitz MOCAA.It is a relevant exhibition that highlights pan-African and pan-diasporic Black subjectivities and Black consciousness worldwide.

The exhibition When We See Us is the biggest of its kind to ever take place on the African continent. More than 200 works of art over the last 100 years will be included. The goal of the exhibition is to promote agency and self-determination among Black people worldwide. As a result, the exhibition’s main focus is on the tenacity, essence, and political significance of Black joy and the everyday life of Black people.

The show highlights the ways that numerous generations of Black artists have embraced and critically engaged in expressing diverse self-reflective and challenging ideas of Blackness and Africanicity.

When We See Us highlights the artistic lineages, art schools, and movements from the British Black Arts Movement to the Department of Fine Arts at Makerere University in Uganda to the Federated Union of Black Artists (FUBA) in South Africa, to name a few. It also mentions the Nsukka School in Nigeria, the Ecole de Dakar in Senegal, the Kumasi School in Ghana, and the Ecole de Dakar in Nigeria.

More than 200 works of art are on display at the show, which was created by Wolff Architects and comes from 74 institutional and private lenders in 26 different countries. The political power, essence, and resiliency of Black joy are all celebrated in When We See Us. The exhibition is organised around six themes: Triumph and Emancipation, The Every Day, Joy and Revelry, Repose, Sensuality, and Spirituality.

The installation combines various methods, revealing deeper historical contexts and networks of a complex and underrepresented genealogy, coming from African and Black modernities. Figurative painting by Black artists has gained new popularity over the past ten years. The show focus on what main curator Koyo Kouoh refers to as “parallel aesthetics,” which exposes connections between artists and works of art across geographic, generational, and philosophical settings.

A number of artists’ works will be on display, including those by Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Zandile Tshabalala, Jacob Lawrence, Chéri Samba, Danielle McKinney, Archibald Motley, Ben Enwonwu, Kingsley Sambo, Sungi Mlengeya, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Cyprien Tokoudagba, Amy Sherald, Helen Sebidi,  Mmapula Mmakgabo, and Joy Labinjo,  among many others.

A hardback poetic catalogue, edited by Kouoh in association with Zeitz MOCAA, was released to coincide with the exhibition. Richly illustrated with all of the works chosen for the exhibition, it also includes four specially commissioned texts by renowned female writers Ken Bugul (Senegal), Maaza Mengiste (Ethiopia), Robin Coste Lewis (United States), and Bill Kouelany, as well as a contextual essay by exhibition co-curator Tandazani Dhlakama (Republic of Congo).

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