Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) has opened two new exhibitions titled “Past Disquiet” and “Seismography of Struggle: Towards a Global History of Critical and Cultural Journals”.
“Past Disquiet” is a documentary and archival exhibition based on research conducted by Lebanese curator-writers duo and long-time collaborators, Kristine Khouri and Rasha Salti. For over a decade, they explored four seed collections of art that were intended to be “museums in solidarity” or “museums in exile”, which incarnated the engagement of artists with a particular political cause. It is an exhibition of stories told with documents, photographs, pamphlets, press clippings, posters, interviews and videos.
The research began as the two curators explored how the International Art Exhibition for Palestine, which took place in Beirut (Lebanon) in 1978, was meant to become the nucleus for a museum in solidarity with the Palestinian people’s struggle. Despite the size and scope of the exhibition, yet unprecedented for the region, it seems to have been totally forgotten. The story of that museum was closely connected to other similar collections and initiatives, namely, the International Museum of The Resistance ‘Salvador Allende’, the Artists Contre/Against Apartheid, and Art for the People of Nicaragua.
The curators expanded their research into Art Against Apartheid, conceived in 1978 by French artist Ernest Pignon-Ernest and the late Spanish painter Antonio Saura. This was a travelling exhibition of works by internationally recognised artists produced to raise awareness of the unjust regime of the National Party. In 1996, the collection made a homecoming, with the artworks exhibited in Parliament in Cape Town, taking the place of colonial portraits and landscapes to symbolise a new dawning of democracy in the nation, and now housed in the University of the Western Cape Robben Island Mayibuye Archives.
This latest incarnation of “Past Disquiet” follows in the footsteps of earlier iterations at institutions in Barcelona, Berlin, Paris, Santiago de Chile and Beirut. Presenting new research developed at Zeitz MOCAA – in collaboration with the University of the Western Cape’s Centre for Humanities Research and Mayibuye Archives, the Robben Island Museum, Parliament of South Africa, and anti-apartheid cultural collectives and figures from the 1980s – “Past Disquiet” extends the museum’s art historical agenda. It considers exhibition histories and cultural networks in the Global South while connecting to the artistic, intellectual and political issues of our contemporary moment.
The exhibition and visual identity are designed by Studio Safar, a design agency and publisher established in Beirut (2012) and in Montreal (2020).
“Past Disquiet is one of the most significant contributions of our time to a more representative art history – and reminds us that artists and artworks are central to liberation, and essential participants for facilitating change in an unjust world. The stories brought to life in this extraordinary document have not been merely forgotten, but have been actively erased or neglected. It is our mission to write these back into the record – not only for the history of the continent, but into a narrative of a world that has a connected and entangled present and future,” says Koyo Kouoh, executive director and chief curator of Zeitz MOCAA.
The exhibition is presented in parallel with the multimedia installation and database, “Seismography of Struggle: Towards a Global History of Critical and Cultural Journals”, an itinerant exhibition compiled and curated by French-Algerian art historian Zahia Rahmani.
“Seismography of Struggle” is an inventory of critical and cultural journals from the non-European world that understands print media and publishing as fundamental tools of struggle for anti-colonial, abolitionist and liberatory movements in Africa, Asia and the Americas. Rahmani’s project evinces the scope and diversity of publishing across the world from the late 18th century until 1989, a period bookended by the historic quakes that were the Haitian Revolution and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The exhibition is presented as a sound and image installation with multi-channel projections displaying journal covers, inside pages and images of protagonists, accompanied by a manifesto of quotes from revolutionary editors and a soundscape by French composer, Jean-Jacques Palix. Furthermore, a browsable database of journals is available. This approach attests to the incredible and inspiring volume of printed material produced as part of cultural and political struggles worldwide and highlights the diverse aesthetic strategies of revolutionary publishers.
Kouoh impresses that, “Seismography of Struggle brings to life the power of publishing and its revolutionary impact in social movements. Zahia’s dedication in researching and bringing together a publicly accessible database with its particular geographical and cultural focus is legendary, and at its core fundamentally political. While leaning into the aesthetics of the archival object’s seductiveness, the meditative nature of the installation also allows for new connections to be made between these historic documents.”
Together, these two exhibitions speak to rich and radical histories of art and culture as integral to political struggles for democracy, equality and sovereignty.
The museum will also be launching “Radical Solidarity: A Reader”, which captures the profound ideas and projects of radical thinkers, artists and activists committed to fostering the arts from Africa and its diaspora. The publication emerges from the proceedings of the Radical Solidarity Summit, a week-long online gathering hosted by Zeitz MOCAA in September 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the intention to not only address the urgent issues of the moment, but to explore the alternative futures and possibilities that can be forged in the cultural field through acts of radical solidarity.
Edited by Tandazani Dhlakama, Alexandra Dodd, Tammy Langtry, and Storm Janse van Rensburg, the publication retains the conversational, intimate nature of the online gathering, while honouring the urgency and complexity of its subject matter.
Kouoh states of the summit and subsequent reader, “Many associate the term ‘radical’ with extreme reforms that shift the fundamental nature of things, while the word ‘solidarity’ brings to mind fellowship, unity and shared convictions among people. However, radicality does not always need to be loud and extreme. The silent, sotto and steady defiance of any given state of affairs can be just as radical as the loudest protest.”
Designed by Yvon Langué and Soukaina Aboulaoula of the design duo Untitled, this reader gives collective voice to the historical and philosophical root system of Zeitz MOCAA as a contemporary pan- and diasporic African art institution at the leading edge of global contemporary art practice and discourse.
Zeitz MOCAA’s curatorial and educational programming is generously supported by Gucci and the Mellon Foundation. “Seismography of Struggle” is furthermore supported by the French Institute of South Africa.