Several weeks of collaborative work among three young artists in Johannesburg resulted in a show that documented the process and their experiences.
'Beasts of No Nation'
Three young South African artists who were awarded a studio grant from The African Arts Trust were hosted for several months at the “Assemblage Studios” in Johannesburg this past year. In the final weeks of their residency, Pebofatso Mokoena, Fleur de Bondt and Grace Mmabatho Mokalapa worked together to create a show that was the result of exchanges, conversations, group drawings, and active collaborations, exploring the artists' experimental work.
‘Beasts of No Nation’ was the name of the final exhibition, with obvious references to renowned precedents: the music album by Fela Kuti, the novel by Uzodinma Iweala, about a young boy who becomes a child soldier, and very recently, the film by Cary Joji Fukunaga.
“Collectively, the artists aimed to break out of their preciousness and comfort zones. When you enter the gallery you are confronted by a Friedrich Nietzsche quote proudly inscribed on the wall: “Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss will also gaze into you.”
The residency at 'Assemblage Studios’ was a great experience for all three artists. “Apart from the obvious advantages, like being part of a supporting network, showcasing your work to others, having access to resources and seeing the effect it has on one’s productivity, the studio has also become a sanctuary for them. It’s a place for work and play. There they can be vulnerable, curious and playful. Pebofatso experienced the studio as a “rehabilitation island” in the madness of Johannesburg
Preparing for the exhibition at Hazard Gallery was scary, intimidating, rewarding and empowering, all in one. Being part of a collaboration took them out of their comfort zone and according to Fleur, the result is that this body of work looks very different to their other works. All three artists express deep gratitude, respect and appreciation for the other two. “We've had a lot of fun,” says Fleur of the time working together. Grace adds, “I am so lucky to be working with two extremely talented artists who have a lot of insight and energy that has made this show an amazing experience.”
Working with Hazard and the exhibition team was awesome, according to Pebofatso. “It led to a range of possibilities opening up right before my eyes. It was beautiful.”
Now they're already looking ahead. Their passion to express themselves through art is a big motivation. That, and according to Fleur, the “self-loathing feeling of being lazy”! For the time being, they will stay on at Assemblage. With new projects already lined up and an endless amount of creative ideas to explore, they are gazing into the abyss and where others might see beasts, they see beauty staring back at them."
(Assemblage is an art hub and community in Johannesburg, South Africa: http://www.assemblage.co.za
The long excerpt and all the quotes are from the exhibition review in the Assemblage newsletter.)
Emergent Art Space asked Pebofatso to comment on his experience:
“Looking back at Beasts of No Nation, the exhibition became more of a possibility to explore what I’ve always wanted to explore - drawing with mark-making, and building a really honest visual language for myself. The show continued as an exploration into how I can also manifest a new kind of energy, an energy which counteracted a surge of super-political arguments that I had been exposed to over the news, and on the radio. In a sense, the work produced from the exhibition became another form of politics - a politics of peace, amongst the madness of Johannesburg.”