PAST EXHIBITION

THE 2020s: new forms of abstraction – part 1

Amogelang Maepa, Chrisél Attewell, Cow Mash, DuduBloom More, Kutlwano Monyai, Lee-At Meyerov, Odette Graskie, Natalie de Morney, Pia Truscott, Stefan Blom and Tré Mkhabela

3 June – 24 June 2023
Held at Berman Contemporary

New forms, new ideas, new associations.
New worlds, new perspectives, new layers.

The exhibition THE 2020s: new forms of abstraction – part 1, serves as a springboard for a new, young generation of South African visual artists who are investigating abstraction as a more global and nomadic art style, and shifting our gaze. One can sense that new life is blossoming within this early 2020s art movement, which has recently paid more attention to figuration. As these artists create a new visual language, they also contribute significantly to broadening the parameters of Contemporary African Art. They resist the pigeonholing of African Art on a global scale and seek to establish as an equal partner in dialogue with other cultural geographies of the world.

Curated by Els van Mourik

Curatorial Statement by Els van Mourik

‘You must change your life,’ Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 – 1926) concluded in his poem, Archaic Torso of Apollo (1908). The poem was written in a period that Rilke got himself a job of working for the French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840 – 1917). While Rilke felt that his own, earlier poems were airy, disembodied, he was attracted to Rodin’s very fleshy, highly physicalised forms, and he wanted to write poems with the same kind of muscularity and physical presence. Rodin gave him assignments: go to the zoo and look; go to the Louvre, choose something, and talk about it.

Rainer Maria Rilke’s work has always inspired us to accept change and transformation, and to remain open to life. The title of the exhibition at Berman Contemporary in Johannesburg can therefore be understood as a tribute to this willingness to engage with the forces and energies that change art practice and the world. And this
is indeed a characteristic feature of the South Africa-based artists in the exhibition: Amogelang Maepa, Chrisél Attewell, Cow Mash, DuduBloom More, Kutlwano Monyai, Lee-At Meyerov, Odette Graskie, Natalie de Morney, Pia Truscott, Stefan Blom and Tré Mkhabela.

Abstract painting and sculpture occupy an important place in South African avant-garde artistic movements, and started to emerge in the 1950s. The ‘Overseas Exhibition of South African Art’ (1948) at the Tate Gallery in London is considered by art historians as the starting point of this development, which reached a peak with the 1979 ‘State of the Art in South Africa’ conference at the University of Cape Town.

The long list of forerunners, who have been paving the way for the current generation, such as Bill Ainslie, Cecil Skotnes, David Koloane, Ernest Mancoba, Jenny Stadler, Judith Mason, Kevin Atkinson, Louis Maqhubela, Samson Mnisi, Sarah Tabane and Tony Nkotsi, are all well-known and have long been using abstraction as a
disruptive force for meaning making. All of them utilized colour and a process-driven approach to painting and form, and were interested in exploring the possibilities of abstraction.

The exhibition THE 2020s: new forms of abstraction – part 1, serves as a springboard for a new generation of South African visual artists who are investigating abstraction as a more global and nomadic art style, and are shifting our gaze. One can sense that new life is blossoming within this early 2020s art movement,
which recently paid more attention to figuration. As these artists create a new visual language, they also contribute significantly to broadening the parameters of Contemporary African Art – they resist the pigeonholing of African Art on a global scale, and seek to establish themselves as an equal partner, in dialogue with other cultural geographies of the world.

The artists’ palette is light and fresh, their style is freer; they dare to stretch the boundaries of abstraction, and are technically convincing. Their work reflects a powerful contemplation of society’s turmoil, and a call for innovative ways of thinking about current worldly issues. They encourage viewers to delve into the unfamiliar expressions from societies different from their own, and to seek new horizons.

Many of the artists represented in the exhibition worked in different materials, to explore line, colour, shape, form, and texture, in order to adequately convey the complexities of the modern human condition through the most meaningful compositions. The work in this exhibition reflects the diverse ways in which these artists are using abstraction – appropriating it, finding solutions in their artistic process, and developing their own visual language.

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