A statement on the political responsibility of the critic: the critic must attempt to fully realize, and take responsibility for, the unspoken, unrepresented pasts that haunt the historical present.
― Homi K. Bhabha
Upright and poised, the uniformed gaze of Keyala Soldiers stands at attention, peppered throughout the central exhibition space, their cut-out forms are largely encased in white rectangular structures. Donned in an aesthetic of militarized coloniality, the figures appear frozen in a moment of historicized time. The temporal connotations of black and white imagery extend into what Malawian-born-London-based artist, Samson Kambalu, terms ‘Nyau Cinema’. Constructed around the visuality of the ‘African Dandy’ – Kambula adopts this persona as a means to prompt a conversation around the appropriation of ‘Western’ attire in an African context.
The brief and seemingly senselessly repetitive vignettes were created through a specific set of conditions – engaging spontaneous and site-specific performance, transgressive yet playful acting, costumed attire and an aesthetic reflective of silent cinema – to name a few. It also draws on connections to the Situationist’s ’psychogeography and notions of hysteria. “Hysteria can be a sign of health, your soul is still stirring, and it has the potential of turning whatever you’re experiencing into art. I like this kind of psychoanalysis, it allows for affirmation.” However, perceptions of hysteria have historically been viewed in a different light, used as a mechanism to discredit and discard the lived experience of people. Thus, making this inversion quite curious.
Further moments of inversion are situated in the drawing on the conventions of Western nationalism. Fabricated flags adorn the walls in Kambalu’s second solo exhibition at the Goodman Gallery. In a nostalgic reflection of personal biography, his Bubble Gum Flags are reminiscent of a childhood pastime entailing the avid collection of Dandy Bubble Gum and its contents of tradable wrapper-flags. Often resulting in abstract invented forms, serving as inspiration for Kambalu’s geometric designs. The flags and title of the show reflect on Malawi’s colonial history. Nyasaland was a former British Protectorate established in 1907 and later renamed Malawi when the country gained independence from Britain on 6 July 1964. Whereas, analysand means a person undergoing psychotherapy. The combination of these two words amalgamated in the title of the show are indicative of its ambitious conceptual framework – speaking to the psychology of the post-colonial.
Kambalu is interested in the ‘syncretic’ cultures that he grew up around, and attempts to produce work that celebrates and interrogates practices of integrating Western influences into local traditions and customs. This should be approached with nuance and caution in order to not simply reproduce flattened images of Africa. “Looks can be deceptive. What I like about syncretic cultures is that they look Western and yet the heart of it is totally alien. I think that’s very much like me.”
Nyasaland Analysand is on show at the Goodman Gallery Johannesburg until the 13th of April.