Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi


This catalogue accompanies Gymnasium, Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi’s first solo exhibition with the gallery, documenting the works on show and reaching back to the series’ origins. The paintings range from fluidly composed figurations of gymnasts and judges to unoccupied spaces verging on architectural abstraction. Nkosi’s figures are depicted in the moments preceding and following the execution of a move, or the aftermath of failure, in a foregrounding of the subtleties of performance that often escape public notice. In a video work, the studied restraint of the paintings is exchanged for close-up footage of young gymnasts of different ages, from different periods of time, in private moments of anticipation, with public displays of selfhood articulated through costume and adornment.

The exhibition opened on the eve of South Africa's Covid-19 lockdown, and the catalogue essay by Mwenya B Kabwe asks what the Gymnasium series gives us ’at a time like this, a time of such massive upheaval’. Interweaving a fabular tale with her insights into Nkosi's lens on this moment, Kabwe write: ’Nkosi tells us that when we are talking about race, we are never just talking about race. When we are talking about infectious diseases, we are actually talking about the biological expression of social inequality.’ She continues:

Nkosi has a conspicuous concern for what stories we tell, who does the telling, and the consequences of these decisions. She deals with the ones that do not and will not get told – not the stories of centre stage, but the ones of anticipation, of rehearsal, of preparation, of failure – the midsentence, not the final exclamation mark. Each painting a snapshot of insight into the less glamorous moments of performance, the trials and errors, the pre-set, while also smoothly indicating larger implications. Nkosi asks us to consider what happens when the pressure to perform is diminished, when the performance of blackness is refocused to imagining the occupation of the spaces we want to inhabit. A simultaneous critique and proposition. To give black bodies our full attention at a time when they are precariously placed on the health care hierarchy is as sobering as it is promising.

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Published by Stevenson | Catalogue 94 | May 2020
Softcover, 76 pages | Price: R250


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