Shirin Neshat’s First Solo Exhibition in Cape Town and Sue Wiliamson’s Postcards from Africa-Concurrent Solo Exhibitions: 12 August – 18 September 2021
Goodman Gallery Cape Town is pleased to present Shirin Neshat and Distant Visions: Postcards from Africa concurrent solo exhibitions by Shirin Neshat and Sue Williamson. Both artists are known for works that address overlooked histories and the lived experience of individuals not often prioritized by society.
Goodman Gallery is pleased to present Shirin Neshat, the artist’s first solo exhibition in Cape Town, which brings together a video installation Sarah, a photographic still from Roja and Offerings, a series of recent photographic-based works, which through different means incorporate Neshat’s interest in the interior lives of women.
Sarah and Roja are part of a trilogy of video installations titled Dreamers, which explore the world of women’s dreams. In many ways, the characters and their dreamy narratives are projections of the artist in which she reflects on some of her own personal nightmares. Conceptually each of the three video installations revolves around a single female protagonist whose emotional and psychological narratives remain on the border of dream and reality; madness and sanity; and consciousness and subconsciousness as they each face their own distinct inner anxieties. The visual approach to the creation of this trilogy is consistent, with each video being shot in black and white, and the artist using simple camera devices to produce surrealistic and dreamy visual effects.
“I have been haunted by the power of dreams for years” says Neshat, “I am fascinated by how in a state of dream, the boundaries in between madness and sanity, reality and fiction, conscious and subconscious are blurred and broken”. Dreamers is based on aspects of the artist’s own dreams. Roja’s character and dilemma in many ways resembles hers: the fear of the ‘stranger’ and the ‘strange land,’ and desire for a reunion with ‘home’ with ‘mother,’ with the ‘motherland’ that seems welcoming at first but becomes terrifying and demonic in the end. Themes of ‘flight’ and ‘levitation’, implying freedom and ecstasy, is a significant aspect of the Roja video that is a recurring theme in Neshat’s work. The single channel film Sarah is, according to Neshat, “about the unfolding journey of a woman as she recollects and breathes annihilation, as she faces residues of destruction, violence, genocide, and mortality in a state of dream. Sarah’s anxieties and fears at last force her to plunge into imagining her own death.” While not restricted to any particular time or place, the work is intended to reference a collective sense of anxiety and fear, part of the global experience in a world fraught with conflict.
Neshat says: “In my opinion, rational interpretations of dreams never seem to properly capture their true me-
anings and significance within the human psyche. So Sarah is an effort to make sense of the more subliminal emotional and psychic universe that lives deep inside of us, but is difficult to explain through words.”
The film is shown alongside still images from Neshat’s recent Offerings series. For these works, Neshat employs her trademark use of texts in delicate lines of Persian script across the skin of the people and subjects that she photographed. These images reclaim the compositional aesthetics of the series ‘Wo-
men of Allah’ (1993 – 1997), one of the most famous bodies of work by Neshat that marks the beginning of her reflection on the complexity of Islamic culture and its traditions in relation to female identity. The poetry written on the hands in this series is taken from the 11th century Persian Poet Omar Khayyam.
Goodman Gallery is pleased to present Distant Visions: Postcards from Africa, an exhibition of new works from Sue Williamson.
Williamson’s new series of drawings, Postcards from Africa, continues the artist’s interest in the power of a
small printed image to carry news of a specific moment in time to a far off audience, sometimes current, sometimes separated from the event by a century. Her early series of etchings The Modderdam Postcards (1978) was based on sketches made over seven days while witnessing the destruction by the apartheid state of an informal settlement near the airport in Cape Town. Postcards made from A Few South Africans, (1983-86), mixed media portraits of heroic women active in the struggle for liberation, were distributed not only across the country, but the world.
Most recently, the artist has turned her attention to vintage postcards of photographs taken by European colonizers in Africa in the first decades of the 20th century, who used the postcards as examples of the success of their missions, supposedly demonstrating the civilizing effect of colonization on the colonized, or presenting
views of exotic Africa for the edification of folks back home. Sourcing these postcards from museum archives or from the internet, Williamson reverts to classic drawing techniques. She dips her pen into a bottle of ink, building up images with layers of intricate cross hatching, adding colour from a limited palette to reproduce the rural landscapes on the postcards, or capture the scenes of daily community life: harvesting, swimming, gathering wood.
In each drawing within the series, signs of habitation remain visible —dwellings, boats, a pile of coconuts, baskets — but the people who appeared on the original postcard no longer appear. The absence of the people from the landscape presents an uncomfortable tension from which a series of questions emerge — where are the people who used to live here? What happened to them? These questions point to the complexity of sub-
verting the colonial gaze —how does one challenge the gaze while also taking care not to perpetuate violence through recirculation of images that re-invoke their original racist and oppressive context?
Thus the Postcards from Africa series considers a critical moment in history and wrestles with the complex history of colonial expansion and conquest captured through the postcard industry. It also continues Williamson’s investigation into the history of slavery, dispossession and displacement, beginning with her 1997 installation, Messages from the Moat, which was a detailed record of the buying and selling of enslaved people in the Cape of Good Hope, and continued with Messages from the Atlantic Passage (2017) which referenced old shipping records to focus on the trans Atlantic slave trade.
Postcards hold traces of historical memory, and through her evocative ink drawings with their deliberate erasures, Williamson seeks to confront the painful and unresolved legacies of colonialism — an important juncture in world history that has never been fully reckoned with, and whose catastrophic effects continue to be felt by millions of dispossessed peoples across the globe. In this instance, the absence makes the violence visible.