September 16, 2016
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View of “Meleko Mokgosi: Democratic Intuition, Lerato,” 2016.
JACK SHAINMAN GALLERY | WEST 20TH STREET
513 West 20th Street
September 8–October 22
JACK SHAINMAN GALLERY | WEST 24TH STREET
524 West 24th Street
September 8–October 22
In two concurrent solo exhibitions at the gallery’s Twentieth and Twenty-Fourth Street spaces, Meleko Mokgosi presents the latest “chapters” in an ongoing series titled “Democratic Intuition,” 2014–. His monumental paintings give us African subjects in compositions derived from vernacular photography, film, and European history paintings, but the project is far more complex than a mere blending of African and Western influences. Mokgosi examines the construction of historical narratives and questions of representation—both visual and political—through a process of continuous becoming: Precise, photorealist renderings are juxtaposed with raw and unfinished swaths of canvas, while multipanel paintings unfold like cinematic storyboards. Several text-based works transcribe, but do not translate, dinaane (Setswana for “folk stories”), addressing the temporality of storytelling and the complexity of cultural translation.
In “Lerato,” on Twentieth Street, Mokgosi reimagines canonical works by the French academic painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau, whose career was contemporaneous with the Berlin Conference and European imperialism in Africa. In Democratic Intuition, Lerato: Agape I (all works cited, 2016), the artist restages Bouguereau’s Alma Parens (The Motherland), 1883, which depicts a maternal France nurturing her young dependents; Mokgosi’s African protagonist, conversely, embodies France’s colonial exploitation of both land and labor abroad.
On Twenty-Fourth Street, “Comrades II” turns to the legacy of liberation struggles and the notion of democracy in postcolonial Africa. In Democratic Intuition, Lex I, stoic figures inhabit an enigmatic, modernist interior that is adorned with masks and ethnographic photographs. Framed for display and pressed to the picture’s surface, these images highlight the cultural and temporal dislocations that sometimes characterize postcolonial experiences. Here, Mokgosi seems to marshal a Steinbergian “flatbed” aesthetic—also legible in Democratic Intuition, Comrades: Addendum, that features various photographs of African women, done with silk-screen and pigment transfer, that prompt reflection on the mediating role of images in public and political life.