Mickalene Thomas, Devan Shimoyama, & Firelei Báez: ZEITZ MOCAA × GUCCI – WHEN WE SEE US

360, November 20, 2022

 

 

ZEITZ MOCAA ANNOUNCES FULL ARTIST LINE-UP FOR HIGHLY ANTICIPATED EXHIBITION

 

WHEN WE SEE US: A CENTURY OF BLACK FIGURATION IN PAINTING 

 

The survey exhibition features nearly 200 artworks from 154 artists. The exhibition, supported by Gucci, opens on 20 November 2022.

 

This weekend, Zeitz MOCAA will be a flurry of activity as it not only presents its fundraising Gala, sponsored by Gucci, but also unveils a new survey exhibition that has been years in the making. Titled When We See Us: A Century of Black Figuration in Painting, the exhibition places a focus on painting, specifically works produced from the 1920s to the present.

 

“Over the last decade, figurative painting by Black artists has risen to a new prominence in contemporary art,” says Koyo Kouoh, Executive Director and Chief Curator at Zeitz MOCAA. “There is no better time for an exhibition of this nature, one that connects these practices and reveals the deeper historic contexts and networks of complex and underrepresented artistic genealogies that stem from African and Black modernities; an exhibition that demonstrates how multiple generations of such artists have revelled and critically engaged in projecting various notions of Blackness and Africanity.”

 

When We See Us: A Century of Black Figuration in Painting comprises an exhibition, publication and discursive programming that explores Black self-representation and celebrates global Black subjectivities and Black consciousness from pan-African and pan-diasporic perspectives. It boldly brings together artworks from the last 100 years, by Black artists working globally, into dialogue with leading Black thinkers, writers and poets who are active today.

 

The exhibition furthermore celebrates how artists from Africa and its diaspora have imagined, positioned, memorialised and asserted African and African-descent experiences. It contributes to critical discourse on African and Black liberation, intellectual and philosophical movements. The title of the exhibition is inspired by Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us, a 2019 miniseries. Flipping ‘they’ to ‘we’ allows for a dialectical shift that centres the conversation in a differential perspective of self-writing as theorised by Professor Achille Mbembe. 

 

The exhibition, designed by Wolff Architects, features nearly 200 works of art by 154 artists from 28 countries, with the artworks loaned from 73 institutional and private lenders located in 26 countriesWhen We See Us celebrates the resilience, essence and political charge of Black joy. The exhibition is organised around six themes — The Everyday, Joy and Revelry, Repose, Sensuality, Spirituality, and Triumph and Emancipation. It is furthermore accompanied by a sonic translation, compiled by South African composer and sound artist Neo Muyanga.

 

Tandazani Dhlakama, the exhibition’s co-curator and Assistant Curator at Zeitz MOCAA, says: “This exhibition is a true reflection of the historic contexts of African and Black existence, with the oldest artist in the exhibition born in 1886 and the youngest in 1999. It amplifies a historical continuum of self-representation while highlighting important contributions towards a previously understated canon. Most importantly, it explores a broad range of artistic lineages, art schools and movements — and brings together a myriad of artists and their practice in dialogue for the first time (see full list of artists below).”

 

Published to coincide with the exhibition is a hardcover poetic catalogue by Thames and Hudson, in collaboration with Zeitz MOCAA, and edited by Koyo Kouoh. Richly illustrated with all the works selected for the exhibition, it includes a contextual essay by Dhlakama and four specially commissioned texts by acclaimed female writers Ken Bugul (Senegal), Maaza Mengiste (Ethiopia), Robin Coste Lewis (United States) and Bill Kouelany (Republic of Congo). In addition to the publication, on sale from 18 November at Zeitz MOCAA Shop and shop.zeitzmocaa.museum, the curatorial team have collaborated with the museum’s retail partner on a limited range of exhibition-related items, including T-shirts, tote bags and more.

 

Conceived in collaboration with the Institute for Humanities in Africa (HUMA) at the University of Cape Town (UCT), a parallel discursive programme provides theoretical framings of the project and is presented as a year-long, multi-vocal webinar series. The series brings together thought leaders from the continent and its thriving diaspora to address topics around global Black subjectivity and Black representation from the premise of artistic production and into the topical considerations relevant today.

 

Coordinated by Zeitz MOCAA Assistant Curator Thato Mogotsi, previous discussion topics included The Poetics of Black FigurationDefining the ‘We’ & the ‘Us’A Century of Black Figuration as Representation of Self and Black is Beautiful: Pan-Africanism & the Afropolitan Impulse in Contemporary Art, amongst others. Previous participants have included Prof Huey Copeland, Kimberly Drew, Keyna Eleison, Thelma Golden, Dr Felwine Sarr and Athi Mongozeleli Joja. The webinars are archived on the museum’s YouTube channel, with the next one taking place on Tuesday, 29 November. 

 

The opening of the exhibition is preceded by the 2022 Zeitz MOCAA Gala Dinner + Party, supported by Gucci, acting as a catalyst and inspiration for the Gala’s theme of Art & Opulence. The Gala is Zeitz MOCAA’s largest development event of the year and its proceeds yield approximately 30% of the museum’s annual exhibitions and education budget. The event is essential to the institution’s mission of promoting art education and community engagement, and is further supported by the V&A Waterfront, Radisson Hotel Group, the Mail & GuardianYourLuxury Africa, Terre Paisable, Pernod Ricard and Hidden Valley Wines, with BMW South Africa as the official vehicle partner. 

 

The exhibition and accompanying publication have been made possible through the generous support of our presenting sponsor, Gucci.

 

Participating artists include Mickalene Thomas, Devan Shimoyama, and Firelei Báez.

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