South Africa’s Past Explored In New Gasworks Exhibition
Working across performance, drawing, writing, sculpture and installation, Wa Lehulere’s work explores how South Africa’s past continues to haunt the present, unravelling the relationships between personal and collective histories, amnesia and the archive, remembering and forgetting. Forgotten historical figures often resurface anachronistically as characters or props in the artist’s narrative repertoire. This process of revision — of both past lives and his own work — will underpin his exhibition at Gasworks, for which he will create site-specific works in the newly refurbished building.
In researching to produce work for this exhibition, Wa Lehulere has drawn from various sources including his collection of postage stamps from countries that no longer exist and American playwright Richard Walton Tulley’s (1877-1945) forgotten play ‘The Bird of Paradise’ (1912) set in 1890s Hawaii via the legacy of Sol Plaatje. Also inspired by theatre and set design, Wa Lehulere’s works are often conceived as dramatic ‘acts’ or ‘rehearsals’ in long-term narrative arcs centering on motifs such as the act of falling or the unfaithfulness of language.
Wa Lehulere is the recipient of the prestigious Standard Bank Young Artist Award (2015) which recognises exceptional ability by young South African artists. The touring exhibition which opened in June 2015 (History Will Break Your Heart) will travel around the country through to August 2016. For this show, Wa Lehulere again called on forgotten histories, this time related to South African artist Gladys Mgudlandlu (1925 – 1979) whose never before seen mural paintings were uncovered by Wa Lehulere in a process of metaphoric and physical excavation of the walls in Mgudlandlu’s old home, in Gugulethu where Wa Lehulere himself grew up. Wa Lehulere produced a short documentary of his process to uncover the lost murals underneath nine layers of paint and plaster. In collaboration with his aunt who had seen the paintings herself in 1971 when Mgudlandlu was still alive, the artist requested her to recreate the mural paintings from memory using chalk on blackboards.
Wa Lehulere often takes flight from a point or various points in history, again evident in another recent body of work to do with an instruction he found in Japanese artist Mieko Shiomi’s (b. 1938) Spatial Poem No. 3 (Falling Event, 1966). As though he himself had created a new history, Wa Lehulere, for his exhibition To whom it may concern in Stevenson Gallery’s Cape Town space, created a conceptual link between exiled South African writer and journalist Nat Nakasa (1937 – 1965) and Shiomi’s ‘forms of falling’, as a way of documenting Nakasa’s death: he fell. Wa Lehulere has also in recent exhibitions combined leather suitcases, blackboards, salvaged wooden school desks, mass- produced ornamental ceramic dogs, and grass the artist collected from Nakasa’s grave in upstate New York in 2013, more than a year before his remains were announced to be repatriated by the South African government.
Sincerely yours, is the first exhibition in Gasworks’ newly redeveloped space, after the organisation purchased its freehold and underwent a major redevelopment by award-winning British architects HAT Projects. Gasworks has a rich history of supporting UK and international artists, by providing an innovative programme of exhibitions, international residencies, artists’ studios and outreach activities. The redevelopment ensures that Gasworks has a permanent home in the Vauxhall area and can continue its legacy of nurturing emerging artists. Alongside this exhibition, there will also be an
opportunity to view Open Studios with artists-in-residence Grace Weinrib (Chile), Desire Machine Collective (India), Andrea Canepa (Peru) and Rubén Grilo (Spain) on Saturday 26 September.