How, after healing, do we learn from our mistakes?
with Dr. Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung
Just last week, Goodman Gallery opened a three-part group exhibition titled A Different Now Is Close Enough to Exhale On You. Curated by Dr. Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, a globally sought after biotechnologist, curator and writer from Cameroon, A Different Now Is Close Enough to Exhale On You is a cross-continental, multidisciplinary conversation on the thing (or things) that follows healing. For the next few weeks, the exhibition will live in Goodman Gallery’s Johannesburg and Cape Town galleries in addition to a satellite exhibition at the Umhlabathi Collective’s headquarters in Johannesburg. In this week’s ReView we consider Dr. Ndikung’s capacity to facilitate this dialogue visually.
Some time has passed since Goodman Gallery began welcoming its guests in for an after work exhibition opening. Champagne flutes have been refilled, canape trays are cleared and conversation ensues when Dr. Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung attempts to make a quiet entrance.
Forming a semi-circle around him, guests hush each other and wait as he concludes warm exchanges with old friends he didn’t expect to see while here for the Johannesburg opening of the exhibition A Different Now Is Close Enough to Exhale On You. When Ndikung received the invitation from Goodman Gallery, he was in the process of reading something by Nigerian writer and visual artist Eloghosa Osunde. A statement found in Osunde’s text & Other Stories, Ndikung says A Different Now is Close Enough to Exhale On You is “very much about forgiving one’s self”.
Asserting that trauma has made us take a lot of things seriously, Ndikung uses the exhibition to begin the search for a way to move on. “To be able to take a step forward, I think we need to do a certain form of cleansing and that cleansing comes with forgiving, not only the others but forgiving oneself,” he explains.
To do this, Ndikung brought together 20-something artists to think through this process. Although different in practice and medium, Ndikung notes them existing in a “pendulant between the political and the poetical”. Treating deeply political themes like land, identity, nationalism, labour and capitalism with a lyrical finesse, the artists and the exhibition as a whole embrace the politically shunned use of euphemism to address heavy matters.
A plea to learn lessons, to treat historical wounds, to break from generational cycles, A Different Now Is Close Enough to Exhale On You relinquishes pointing the finger of blame. Instead it gently inspects the collective (continental) self asking ‘Why has nothing changed even though everything is no longer the same?’. Although it is an arresting show, for all the senses, A Different Now Is Close Enough to Exhale On You leaves very little, or no, room for passive viewing.