FNB Art Joburg
06-08.09.24
Sandton Convention
Centre, Johannesburg,
South Africa

Artist of Interest

The 8th Yokohama Triennale

with Lungiswa Gqunta

The product of defiance, Lungiswa Gqunta’s multidisciplinary practice reasserts black life back into the landscapes they were erased from, through performance, printmaking, sculpture and multi sensory installation. Disrupting grief charged legacies of patriarchal dominance and colonialism, with care that centres black femmes as a priority, she reflects on the disregarded ways they have survived systemic social, physical and spiritual fatalities. This week we consider her work, Benisiya Ndawoni: Return to the Unfamiliar as a part of the 8th Yokohama Triennale.  

In 1862, when Abraham Lincoln enacted the Homestead Act in North America, he gave white settlers the right to claim 160 acres of public land as their own. With this came the need to establish physical boundaries that would keep the desired in and the unwanted out. Hedges would not suffice and neither would a wooden fence. Likely to puncture the skin, versatile, affordable and easy to install, the invention of barbed wire was effective in cost and its threat of violence. The primary material used in Lungiswa Gqunta’s Benisiya Ndawoni, the installation acknowledges barbed wire’s persistent legacy.

When Lungiswa Gqunta initially conceptualised the work Benisiya Ndawoni, its function was two fold. The first was a question posed to the historical communities of people who were removed from their homes and forced to make new ones elsewhere. Its second was a prompt to the contemporary communities in those lineages to consider how migration patterns manifest themselves in our today. In response to the invitation to show at the 8th edition of the Yokohama Triennale, Gqunta chose to embrace the theme Wild Grass: Our Lives by offering a new rendition of Benisiya Ndawoni

A call to trace the origins of our collective social, political, environmental and economic issues including war, climate change, financial disparity and intolerance to diversity, the Yokohama Triennale looks to unlock a way (or ways) forward. 

First seen at WHATIFTHEWORLD as a part of the exhibition QwithaBenisiya Ndawoni has traveled and had several, context contingent, iterations. In the triennial context, Gqunta says the work and her practice have the opportunity to unfold in ways that are outside of contemporary art’s commercial confines. “I rely on these massive shows to stretch my thinking and imagining around what is possible with my work. Not only scale wise, but also as a space of learning for myself and anyone who encounters it.”

On the learning that Gqunta speaks of, Benisiya Ndawoni is as much of a physical experience as it is visual because it utilises the span of the gallery to dictate or affect the movement of its audiences. To walk the installation, audiences must duck, dive and tread with caution to avoid an encounter with the barbed wire. Visceral, the work requires active engagement that subverts the passivity with which other mediums may permit. A part of this collective tracing, Gqunta’s work materialises the act of trying to navigate while negotiating the limits, borders, divisions and confines violently set up to disenfranchise. “It was thinking of and holding heavy the grief of the Palestinian, Congolese and Sudanese genocides. It is many things and some of those things I am still learning today,” she says. 

Although disruptive because of the ways it challenges our understanding and experience with access and the enjoyment that comes with engaging with culture, in so-called public spaces, the application of Benisiya Ndawoni discards false resolve and gifts its audience with questions that leave them complicit in the work that the Yokohama Triennale is calling for.

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