Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi, Stadium, 2023, installation view
STEVENSON is pleased to present Stadium, a solo exhibition of new paintings by Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi.
Fascinated by the layers of power embedded in a single public moment, Nkosi offers a series of interconnected paintings that generate multiple narrative possibilities, inviting the audience to examine, compare and connect various perspectives.
Stadium is an experiment in synchronous storytelling. The works reflect seven different views of one split-second towards the end of a track-and-field event. Each one is charged by the climactic energy of athletes approaching the finish line.
A multidirectional gaze is employed to corral, isolate and examine the moment’s constituent parts: the spectators, their eyes pressed to cameras and binoculars; the officials with their forms and instruments of measurement at the finish line; the press photographers positioned on the track; the dark stadium tunnel, from where the athletes emerged and into which they will later disappear; and the empty, expectant podium. Each piece of the puzzle informs and changes the meaning of all the others. The sum is a study in interlocking relationships: between the witnesses and the spectacle; between all the actors and the stage; and, not least, between the spectacle itself and the world outside.
Cameras and binoculars, both recurring images in Nkosi’s work, imply focus and distraction simultaneously. By casting her gaze on the gazers, a long-held preoccupation of the artist, Nkosi draws attention to the role of the witnesses (adjudicating officials, press photographers, spectators) in creating the spectacle. Their gazes are fixed on the same thing – a group of runners approaching the finish line – but, in Stadium, the artist makes provision to question what else connects these witnesses, animating the space between them. What will be captured in their photographs? What will be excluded? Who looks at them from beyond the confines of the stadium?
Nkosi has said that many of her recent paintings have developed out of the multimedia public art project, titled Equations for a Body at Rest, which she created to coincide with the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022. The project, which continues to exist as an online archive, examined the history and meaning of the Games, from their genesis within the British Empire until the present day. Centrally, the project explored the disconnect between the presentation of the Commonwealth Games (and by extension the Commonwealth organisation itself) and the historical truths that lie behind that presentation.
The artist has written:
Sporting events, with their connotations of ‘equal footing’, ‘healthy competition’, etc, are perfect tools of misdirection for those who would celebrate or perpetuate ideological projects premised on unequal access and economic exploitation. Stadium – with its seven angles – provides various vantage points from which to look at the world inside the stadium and how it functions. Elaborately constructed, thoroughly sanitised, it is a world of clear rules and assumed trust. The athletes/performers, the officials (part ancestors/part judges), the busy photographers, the spectators crowding the stands – all of these actors, together, invest this simulacrum with its ‘reality’.
These works facilitate a witnessing of how the boundaries of that construction are porous, and the ‘outside’ world – the real world, of oppression and revolution, exploitation and resistance – is ever-present and inescapable. It is the slippery foundation upon which the construct wobbles and slides. There is a romance to the shapes of the palm trees on the horizon, but for me the trees also reflect a clear decision I made to situate this particular moment, this particular stadium, in geographical and historical space.
Each work in the series, except one, is ostensibly paired with one other in theme, composition and palette: the officials and the photographers; the spectators; the tunnel and the podium. The only painting that stands alone is the one depicting the athletes themselves: the subjects in the sights of the cameras and binoculars, the competitors the officials must judge. Nkosi continues: ‘What do we see, as we join our gaze to theirs? Simply human beings joined in a tumble towards the finish line, and impossible to rank.'
Stadium is her first show in Amsterdam following Gymnasium in Johannesburg (2020) and Landings in Cape Town (2022).
The exhibition opens Thursday 2 November, 5 to 7pm. The artist will present a walkabout on the day of the opening at 6pm.
The show is accompanied by a free poster-style handout featuring an essay by M Neelika Jayawardane - view here.