Theme of Interest
A study beneath the domestic water’s surface
with Kate Gottgens
A visual artist working in the medium of paint for the last three decades, Kate Gottgens is best known for making spirited but muted paintings of domestic scenes. Referencing memories, literature and visual texts alike, her work employs the familiar to reveal the concealed. Featured in this week’s Of Interest we dissect this using her current show at SMAC titled The Swimmer.
Bodies of water were a prevalent theme in the contemporary African art landscape in 2022.
In January, KZNSA Gallery presented Luvuyo Equiano Nyawose’s eBhish’. A few months later, a selection of photographs from the series made their way to Australia as a part of the PHOTO 2022 International Festival of Photography. Then, in July Nyawose presented their research at the University of Amsterdam’s Oceans as Archives Conference. Some time later, their dissertation, eBhish’ articulations of Black Oceanic Presence eThekwini was published and made available to the public.
After winning the Norval Sovereign African Art Prize in March, Bonolo Kavula was set to have a solo exhibition at Norval Foundation in October. A Setswana phrase referring to the sea, Kavula titled the show Lewatle.
Then when Ravelle Pillay made her debut at Goodman Gallery, her show (titled Tide and Seed) brought the material and political charge of water to the fore. At Stevenson, Mawande Ka Zenzile had Nqanda Nanga’manzi engene’ndlini. A Xhosa proverb the title translates to an instruction: ‘stop the water from going into the house’.
Having all independently studied the politics of water, curators Natasha Ginwala, Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung and Michelangelo Corsaro worked together with Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art chief curator Koyo Kouoh to present the group show Indigo Waves and Other Stories: Re-Navigating the Afrasian Sea and Notions of Diaspora.
Closing off the year’s takes on water, SMAC gallery is currently showing Kate Gottgens’ The Swimmer.
Where the shows above examined bodies of water for their potential as means contributing towards or supporting luxury, rest, redemption, pain, displacement, cleansing and connection in their public capacity, The Swimmer’s point of departure is domestic. A peek into white suburbia, The Swimmer depicts several scenes of rest. Unlike the bodies of water encountered in other shows, here they tell us more about the people than about the things that water has done to them. In backyards, private dams, and semi-public pools, bodies of water absorb what swimmers leave behind. An almost passive bystander, The Swimmer positions water as a witness.
Deeply shadowed and occasionally murky, there is a nostalgic air about The Swimmer that makes the paintings read like fond memories for some of the audience. For those outside the socioeconomic bracket it fills gaps that were once occupied by escapist, longing speculation.
Perhaps that is its political arc, if it needs one at all.