art, Events, Interviews

exhibition must-see: 20 female artists transforming stereotypes

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'Faux Cul VI - X', Ayana V Jackson, 2017-2018. Photograph: Fanyana Hlabangane

‘Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and humanise.’ So says Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in a 2009 TED talk – the inspiration behind Not a Single Story, the current winter exhibition at Nirox Sculpture Park.

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Adichie isn’t just talking about literature. She is talking about any depiction of a person, or a people, or a place – be it via media headlines, film or even art. And this is what elicited Nirox’s response.

‘The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story,’ continues Adichie. And so Nirox Foundation collaborated with Sweden’s Wanås Konst to help broaden the narrative. The result: a curation of 25+ artworks thoughtfully scattered across the 20 hectares of land of Nirox Sculpture Park’s home in the Magaliesberg’s Cradle of Humankind. As you walk through the tranquil space, you encounter a story at every turn – emerging from behind trees, rising from the grass, protruding from the park’s lake waters. In a bid to amplify the many stories so long untold, the majority of the artists included in the show are women. Here, some of our highlights:

Zanele Muholi

Perhaps one of the most exciting South African photographers and multi-media artists at the moment, Zanele Muholi is fast becoming a contemporary South African art collector’s must-acquire. And with a mission to ‘rewrite a black queer and trans visual history of South Africa’, Muholi’s contribution to ‘Not a Single Story’ is brilliant. Her contribution, ‘Koze Kubenini’, is an eerie, poignant tribute to her mantra.

'Koze Kubenini', Zanele Muholi, 2018. Photograph: Fanyana Hlabangane.

Esther Mahlangu

Eighty-two year-old Mahlangu is showing no signs of slowing down, and her characteristically bold, geometric mural – based on the traditional paintings of the Ndebele people – is a delight.


'Untitled', Esther Mahlangu, 2018. Photograph: Fanyana Hlabangane.
'Untitled', Esther Mahlangu, 2018. Photograph: Fanyana Hlabangane.

Mary Sibande

The much-celebrated Sibande (whose Zeitz MOCAA opening exhibition inclusions remain a distinct highlight) presents ‘Let Slip The Dogs of War’ in a typically striking colour palette: a potent purple that sits jarringly amidst the rolling green of the park. And jarring it should be: Sibande alludes to how black South Africans are reference during and post-Apartheid.

'Let Slip the Dogs of War', Mary Sibande, 2015. Photograph: Fanyana Hlabangane.
'Let Slip the Dogs of War', Mary Sibande, 2015. Photograph: Fanyana Hlabangane.
'Let Slip the Dogs of War', Mary Sibande, 2015. Photograph: Fanyana Hlabangane.
'Let Slip the Dogs of War', Mary Sibande, 2015. Photograph: Fanyana Hlabangane.

Nandipha Mntambo

See Swaziland’s Mntambo tackle a new medium in her repertoire –painted steel – in her piece ‘Enticed Contemplation II’, an iteration of a 2015 piece that seems to capturing the billowing, fluid being of air.

'Enticed Contemplation II', Nandipha Mntambo, 2018. Photograph: Fanyana Hlabangane.


Lubaina Himid

The 2017 Turner Prize winner finds her first showcase on South African soil as part of ‘Not a Single Story’. On offer is an instructional version of her 1994 creation ‘Vernet’s Studio’, cut-out, painted figurines that explore the challenges of legacies. ‘The main purpose of my work is to give people agency,’ says Himid. ‘It’s vital that they/we see many differing and credible versions of ourselves, our ideas and our lives as we investigate the visual landscape.’

A journey through the park’s showcase, as you follow the paths that snake around the landscape and its sculptures, is an encounter with the varied, unique stories of 20 extraordinary women. It’s an experience that gives meaning to Adichie’s observation – ‘How impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story’ – and the sense when you leave that you’ve been exposed to more than that dangerous single story against which Adichie warns.

‘Not a Single Story’ ends 29 July 2018. Find out more at niroxarts.com

'Flickasom viftar på öronen och räckerut tungan, Lena Cronqvist,' 2002. Photograph: Fanyana Hlabangane
'Lifesystem', Peter Geschwind and Gunilla Klingberg, 2018. Photograph: Fanayana Hlabangane,.
'Foot in the Door', Sophia van Wyk, 2018. Photograph: Fanyana Hlabangane.

Artists on show include Jane Alexander (SA), Beth Armstrong (SA), Lena Cronqvist (SE), Latifa Echakhch (MA/FR), Frances Goodman (SA), Lungiswa Gqunta (SA), Lubaina Himid (ZAN/UK), Mwangi Hutter (KE/GER), Ayana V Jackson (US), Bronwyn Katz (SA), Gunilla Klingberg & Peter Geschwind (SE), Marcia Kure (NIG/US), Marianne Lindberg De Geer (SE), Esther Mahlangu (SA), Caroline Mårtensson (SE), Whitney McVeigh (UK), Nandipha Mntambo (Swaziland/SA), Sethembile Msezane (SA), Zanele Muholi (SA), Yoko Ono (Japan/US), Claudette Shreuders (SA), Mary Sibande (SA), Sophia van Wyk (SA), Nelisiwe Xaba (SA).

Curators Elisabeth Millqvist & Mattias Givell, Wanås Konst, Sweden