'Engaging Modernities' at DAG
'Engaging Modernities: Transformation of the Commonplace', at the Durban Art Gallery, is an exhibition curated by Julia Charlton and Fiona Rankin-Smith.
When different cultures meet, values are inevitably transformed and inverted. The west has long raided the rest of the world's cultures for their perceived 'exotic' qualities, and the resulting cultural collisions have also impacted on those raided cultures. The process is rarely one-way however. Since pre-colonial times African societies too have drawn on cultures from far and wide to create new objects and new symbols.
The objects displayed in this exhibition define a range of African modernities by imaging commonplace components of western consumer culture in an African context. Some objects use the detritus of consumer culture, such as discarded medicine vials, and used rubber gaskets, as metonymic equivalents for more traditional materials. Others refigure aspects of modern dress or objects of everyday use, for example waistcoats or tennis racquets, by incorporating or representing them in objects that have traditional African uses. Still others, such as plastic front aprons and capes, remake traditional indigenous items using materials and images drawn from modern western sources.
To the indigenous makers and users of these items these reclaimed objects - safety pins, locks, keys, electric lights, tin cans and rayon or lurex thread - are powerful statements of belonging; belonging to the modern world of a cash economy. Some objects that particularly embody forms of power such as telegraph poles, national flags, judges' wigs and kings' crowns are often seen to be incorporated into the repertoire of African political symbols.
Imaging the realities of African modernity many constructed objects grapple with contemporary issues such as Aids, reminding the viewer of the flexibility and frailty of cultural constructions of identity, and the porosity and the mutability of traditions.
Curated by Prof Anita Nettleton, Julia Charlton and Fiona Rankin-Smith, utilising objects from the Standard Bank African Art Collection, housed at the Witwatersrand University Art Galleries, this exhibition should prove a fascinating display of reinvention and reconstruction.
Opens: April 2
Closes: June 30, 2003
For more information:
Tel: 011. 717 1362/5
Fax: 011. 717 1369
Durban Art Gallery, 2nd floor, City Hall, Smith Street
Tel: 031 311 2262
Fax: 031 311 2273
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