More spectacles in Cape Town: Cyrus Kabiru

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An exhibition of the C-Stunners spectacles by Kenyan artist Cyrus Kabiru is running in Cape Town, expressing the multiple, one-of-a-kind perspectives on and from Africa.

His spectacles are wild and whimsical, serious and resourceful. Kabiru works with objects and recycled materials found on the streets of Nairobi. Bars evoke prisons, bullets evoke police brutality, bones and calabashes talk to tradition, wire satellite dishes and other elaborate metal constructions comment on technology and the future. Most involve many of these elements.

The press release lobs Kabiru into the Afro-futurism box, a philosophy that has increasingly become an empty populist label celebrating everyone from Sun Ra to Outkast and Janelle Monáe.

Frankly, it’s a patronising surface-level reading, as Los Angeles artist Martine Syms explains in her The Mundane Afro-futurist Manifesto: “This dream of utopia can encourage us to forget that outer space will not save us from injustice and that cyberspace was prefigured upon a ‘master/slave’ relationship.”

Kabiru is self-taught. In fact, he started making the glasses when he was seven years old and has forged his own path.

A fellow at TED’s The Young, the Gifted, the Undiscovered in the US in 2013, he explained: “They used to tell their kids ‘Work hard. If you won’t work hard, you’ll be like Cyrus.’ I was very different. I was always in my house doing art, painting and making sculptures. And no one understood what I was doing. I didn’t study. I wore shaggy clothes.

“To them it was a bit weird. I didn’t know Sunday. I didn’t know Monday. I didn’t know.”

Aside from a selection of the spectacles and selfies of Kabiru wearing his glasses, his Black Mambas are also on show.

These are sculptures made from fixed-gear bikes that have increasingly become obsolete with the advent of the scooter. As such an expression of extreme individualism and the celebration of multiple narratives – numerous perspectives, positive and negative – and a grounded presence in the now, Kabiru’s work is far more nuanced than “black sci-fi”.

Also worth comparing with these C-Stunners is Cape Town’s favourite talking point, the Perceiving Freedom “public spectacles” by Michael Elion.

Unfortunately, instead of being supersized and displayed in public, Kabiru’s work is hidden away in the obscure The Palms complex in Woodstock, where SMAC Gallery relocated to at the end of last year.

Published by City Press, 22 February 2015

The geopolitical trash

“What is good for the trash is good for poetry,” reads Brazilian artist Rosângela Rennó’s artwork on show at The Poetry In Between: South-South exhibition currently on in Cape Town.

The exhibition is billed as “exploring the connections and disconnections between Africa and Latin-America”, drawing its name from the geopolitical term “Global South”.

The contested term refers to the non-Westernised world and has become preferred to “developing world” or “third world”, but still draws criticism for highlighting the political tensions between the West and the “other”, or “the trash”.

There’s another level of trash in this exhibition: other people’s flotsam.

For instance, works on display by Brazilian artists include a massive bale of hay that apparently houses a golden needle and thread by Cildo Meireles, an installation of found objects by the peripatetic Paulo Nazareth, a fabric sculpture by Sonia Gomes hanging from the rafters, and a flute embedded in a soapstone by Nuno Ramos.

Is there truth in the meme that the Global South is more resourceful in terms of repurposing waste since we always end up with the West’s leftovers, or have we fallen prey to our own clichéd platitudes?

The South African work on display is more specific – or at least more recognisably specific from this viewer’s context.

These include canvases made of correctional services sheeting by Turiya Magadlela, and a lightbox installation of Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse’s seminal Ponte City work. Ariel Reichman’s Tea for the Master, Coffee for the Madam performance that saw him don a domestic worker’s outfit and serving two chairs delivered unexpected poetry when the queue for wine engulfed his set.

And, of course, never shall there by a Goodman group exhibition without a David Goldblatt or William Kentridge – whose 1991 animation, Mine, has revealed a new dimension since the Marikana Massacre. It was Kendell Geers’s 1993 Hanging Piece that defined the show, however.

Set up in the entrance foyer, the work entails red bricks suspended from rope tied to the rafters at various heights.

Although most people tried to skirt around the obstruction, the work is revealed by people weaving their way through it, setting a brick swinging that could hit another over the head.

Although made a good 13 years before the term BRICS was coined in 2006, it seems an entirely prophetic work in its comical enactment of how clunky and problematic any of these geopolitical terms are; and how they can hit you over the head when you’re not looking.

As the exhibition promises to be the first of an annual series, one hopes that future iterations might explore these tensions and contradictions.

Since it also bears mentioning that the Goodman’s idea of “Africa and Latin-America” in fact refers to “South Africa and Brazil” (with an exception of Kudzanai Chiurai).

City Press, 15 February 2012