'The Trickster' at Art Extra
by Cara Snyman
'The Trickster' is the second curated exhibition at David Brodie's newly opened Art Extra in Craighall Park. First the Curator of Contemporary Collections at the Johannesburg Art Gallery and then the Goodman Gallery Johannesburg, Brodie co-curated such important shows as 'Personal Affects'; his established reputation meant that the opening of Art Extra on the Johannesburg art scene was eagerly awaited.
As Brodie rightly notes, there is a dearth of curated shows in Johannesburg, with stock shows dominating gallery group exhibitions. Brodie seeks to address the lack and thus Art Extra's programme will include regular curated shows, as well as solo exhibitions.
In 'The Trickster', Brodie considers the mythical mischief maker as a central figure in contemporary art production. Gender malleability, multiple identities, a penchant for play and language games, and an impulse to disrupting the status quo are all characteristics associated with the trickster. Tricksters are invariably dualistic in nature, they are deft manipulators and expose deceit, equally, they are naïat;ve and foolish.
In this exhibition the trickster is a metaphorical way of speaking about a range of contemporary issues. 'The Trickster' as marginal figure and disruptive presence obviously has currency, but as a theme it is very broad and rather vague, encompassing many possible sub-themes � the exhibition would have benefited from a tighter framing.
Anthea Moys's work relates to the more playful and transgressive qualities of the trickster, with much in common with the character of Tijl Uilenspiegel. Uilenspiegel is the foolish protagonist in a series of old Dutch fables and a lesson to children in 'what-not-to-do'. Moys's Accident Series: Slipping, Sliding, Snow Swimming is a comedy of errors, which is only halted by weariness or misfortune � in one case, a cut � as seen in the still, Blood finger. Moys uses play to test her own boundaries and breach often subtle societal norms, her performances are at once serious and silly, always with an element of danger. It is a child-like rebellion to go against regulation, jump fences, swim through snow, and maybe more importantly to keep on going. There is no adult presence shouting 'Stop! Enough!'
The jester and trickster share some characteristics - notably an interest in masquerade, and the use of the truth as trump card. For her work Jester, Nandipha Mntambo creates a dress using her (by now) famous method of moulding cowhide. Mntambo here continues her interest in refashioning the female body by reinterpreting the traditionally male role of the wise fool; Jester however ends up being no more or less interesting than cowhide evening wear, rather short of the lyricism of her earlier fragmented bodies. Though the print imagery is more arresting than Jester, the works do seem somewhat supplementary, and lack the visceral and sensual element of the original works.
Rotimi Fani-Kayode's Gold Phallus is one of the most powerful works on the show. In Fani-Kayode's homoerotic images he reconstruct the culturally overdetemined black male body � as an expression of his own identity and Otherness. Photography is a method of self-definition here, which (in his own words) he uses 'not just as an instrument, but as a weapon� to resist attacks on my integrity and, indeed, my existence on my own terms.' Gold Phallus, despite elements such as the mask and body paint is anything but role-play, it is a serious and political reframing of a body. Fani-Kayode's work does relate to the trickster's marginality and transgressive role, but beside the obvious aesthetic links with Gold Phallus, the connection seems tenuous.
In Carlos Aires's Mime a young man covered in blue body paint stands with one hand on his protruding belly, in mimicry of sentimental pregnancy images, he is entertainer, shapeshifter and modern day trickster. Athi-Patra Ruga's Even I Exist in Embo: Jaundiced Tales of Counterpenetration with its animal-person of nondescript gender continues the theme of gender malleability and masquerade, and though not a particularly interesting image in itself, speaks well to the trickster motive.
The idea of the masquerade finds its dark anti-pole in Michael MacGarry's work. A sinister masked figure with a wooden smile, a camouflage suit and a rifle, looks triumphantly at the viewer against the background of a decaying forest. This is not the marginal, playful trickster; it is power hungry oppressor, an image of corrupt business interest in Africa, personified here by Hu Jintao.
'The Trickster' encompasses many sub-plots and related themes, which makes it seem a little undisciplined at times. The lack of supporting literature adds to the issue. That said, Brodie has selected a great variety and one enjoys the energy with which the show is put together. 'The Trickster' is a brave departure and one cannot help but look forward to Brodie's next offering.
Opens: January 24
Closes: February 23
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