Exhibition of Interest
Sala, An Invitation to Stay
A new exhibition at Zeitz MOCAA invites audiences to stay a while. Drawing from the museum’s permanent collection through the works of 17 artists, Sala, gently nudges at new ways of seeing. The work included in the exhibition — from Rashid Johnson’s haunting portrait The New Negro Escapist Social and Athletic Club (Thurgood), Athi-Patra Ruga’s Over the Rainbow, Neo Matloga’s Mokete wa Thabiso le Tshepiso, Thania Petersen’s soundscapes from her Sufi spiritual upbringing, Joël Andrianomearisoa’s black and white photography navigating history and time or El Anatsui’s elevation of everyday materials — these rarely-seen works elicit visceral responses permeating conditions of life. The exhibition stems from an in-depth research project in collaboration with the 2023 cohort of Zeitz MOCAA & University of the Western Cape (UWC) Museum Fellows with a focus on understanding the role of art and art institutions in society.
With a deliberate focus on slowing down time, the spatial configuration of the exhibition encourages a deeper and more personal engagement with the artworks presented in the show. The space is peppered with soft chairs, nooks and comfortable bean bags to invite viewers to take time. These small gestures, including making space in the exhibition handout where one can capture notes, begin to touch on accepted museum practices which stem from Western ideologies rooted in museums as clinical, untouched and unbiased spaces. Within Sala, contestations of space, begin to emerge. In a sense, the show highlights museum practices and their conditions, only to call them into question, testing and fragmenting them.
Athi-Patra Ruga’s Over the Rainbow, a nearly 10-minute long single-channel video is enclosed in a dark cocoon. In this work, song takes on the role of dissolving; liquifying solid notions of Demod Tutu’s vision of a ‘Rainbow Nation’ in post-apartheid South Africa. Brenda Fassie’s Weekend Special, rendered in a robotic and disembodied style evokes the disorientation embedded in failed utopias. The hymn-like protest song Makubenjalo sounds over vivid imagery of figures in hefty colourful garms uncovering bandage from the artist’s body, laying it bare, exposed, and vulnerable – an apt analogy to the state of the nation and notions of states and belonging.
These themes of hauntings and the ghostly find themselves iterated in Mouna Karray’s images of derelict buildings in Tunisia, speaking to territory and the realities of marginalisation. Lungiswa Gqunta’s Divider, a sculpture made from 130 beer bottles hung from above with fabric rope, offer an uncompromised interrogation of the apartheid-era dop system through which workers would receive payment in the form of cheap alcohol as compensation for their labour. Zanele Muhoil gives viewers a mirror of reflection through Bona, Charlottesville by imagining themselves in an intimate space. The Sesotho word for look or see, Bona can be read as an instruction to stop and take note. Throughout the exhibition looking, seeing and feeling take on shifting meanings through a call to shift or direct one’s gaze from left to right, up and down (and every other way) through near and distant horizons.