Meleko Mokgosi’s Democratic Intuition Debuts in Europe

October 2, 2020

The contemporary art abounds with artistic practices exploring the current implications related to the liaison between democracy, postcolonialism, and identity. Now, what makes the better ones stand out is a meticulous approach undertaken by an artist primarily in the sense of the precise articulation of references and historic facts.

Meleko Mokgosi is one that seems to take a significant position in the field as he creates seamlessly crafted narratives based on the mix of both religious and advertising imagery, as well as political propaganda from southern Africa and the United States. By dismantling historical painting while appropriating the cinematic montage method, the artist critically approaches democracy primarily in regards to Black subjectivity.

Currently, at the Gagosian gallery in London, his first solo exhibition in the United Kingdom and Europe tends to underline his unique approach as it is centered on the artist’s impressive project called Democratic Intuition.

Meleko Mokgosi - The Social Revolution of Our Time Cannot Take Its Poetry from the Past but Only from the Poetry of the Future 6, 2019. Oil on canvas, inkjet on canvas. Overall dimensions: 78 ¾ x 114 ¼ x 1 ½ in (200 x 290.2 x 3.8 cm) © Meleko Mokgosi

Deconstructing The Oppressive Matrix

The vast project consisting of multiple depictions of southern African life and folklore was launched by Meleko Mokgosi in 2014 and terminated in 2019. The title Democratic Intuition is inspired by the renowned Indian scholar Gayatri Spivak who argued that the functioning of democracy is dependent upon accessible education. The artist nicely encapsulated his approach in the following statement:

Democracy is incompatible not only with the foundational elements of the human subject, but also with the various systems and institutions that support dominant forms of subjectivity or humanism in general. In other words, democracy is incompatible with structural racism and institutionalized or systemic violence; democracy is incompatible with neocolonialism and neo-imperialism; democracy is incompatible with the instruments that reproduce the conditions for and possibilities of capitalism; democracy is incompatible with race discourse, Eurocentrism, ethnocentrism, and humanism—all of which have become the dominant ways in which reality is conceptualized, interacted with, and historicized. 

Meleko Mokgosi - Objects of Desire 11, 2018. Oil on canvas, paper mounted on board. Three paintings, 46 x 30 in (116.84 x 76.2 cm), 20 x 19 in (50.8 x 48.26 cm), 20 x 30 in (50.8 x 76.2 cm). Four wall text panels: 18 x 24 in (45.72 x 61 cm) each © Meleko Mokgosi

The Installment

The whole project envelopes through eight segments (Objects of Desire, Chimurenga, Acts of Resistance, Bread, Butter, and Power, Lex, Lerato (Love), Comrades I, and II, and Exordium) that include oil paintings and sculptures.

For instance, Bread, Butter, and Power is centered on a twenty-one-panel panoramic painting saturated with references to recent histories, as well as a range of associations that conceptually frame the work; while one of the panels depicts uniformed schoolgirls meticulously painted, juxtaposed against the soil, another features a group of elderly South African military veterans in uniform, and the third depicts a self-portrait by Cameroonian photographer Samuel Fosso in the guise of Black radical Angela Davis.

On the other hand, Objects of Desire is formed of small paintings of Paleolithic cave paintings, Afrocentric beauty advertisements, and contemporary African objects, and text paintings in both English and Setswana language, that feature museum wall labels, dinaane (oral histories), and poems mixed with Mokgosi’s own critical commentary.

Meleko Mokgosi - Objects of Desire 7, 2018. Oil on canvas, paper mounted on board. Two paintings, 64 x 44 in (162.56 x 111.76 cm) each; Four wall text panels, 18 x 24 in (45.72 x 61 cm) each © Meleko Mokgosi

Meleko Mokgosi at The Gagosian

The current exhibition is accompanied by an extensive catalog documenting all the phases of the project, as well as a series of digital seminars organized in collaboration with the artist.

Democratic Intuition is on display at Gagosian in London until 12 December 2020.

To coincide with the exhibition, Meleko Mokgosi has also created a public installation in collaboration with the London-based urban art initiative W1 Curates. An algorithm sequence of images in a ten-minute loop, the installation features image fragments and texts in English and Setswana from Mokgosi’s narrative paintings, digitally adapted to cover the three-story LED façade of the Fannels flagship store at 161–167 Oxford Street in Soho.

The sequence will play 24 hours a day, beginning at midnight on 1 October and running through 18 October

Meleko Mokgosi’s work installed at Flannels, London © Meleko Mokgosi. Photo: courtesy W1 Curates

Featured image: Meleko Mokgosi - Democratic Intuition, Exordium, 2013 - present. Oil and charcoal on canvas, 7 panels: 72 x 72 in (182.88 x 182.88 cm), 96 x 96 in (243.84 x 243.84 cm), 96 x 96 in (243.84 x 243.84 cm), 84 x 84 in (213.36 x 213.36 cm), 84 x 96 in (213.36 x 234.84 cm), 84 x 72 in (213.36 x 182.88 cm), 84 x 84 in (213.36 x 213.36 cm) © Meleko Mokgosi; The Social Revolution of Our Time Cannot Take Its Poetry from the Past but Only from the Poetry of the Future 5, 2019. Oil on canvas, inkjet on canvas. Overall dimensions: 92 x 116 x 2 in (233.7 x 294.6 x 51 cm) © Meleko Mokgosi. All images courtesy Gagosian

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