While assisting on set for a portion of the final instalment of Zimbabwean mixed media artist, Kudzanai Chiurai’s, three part series, I anticipated the announcement of the exhibition. After learning that it was titled “We Live in Silence”, I thought about the loud black imagery that I saw being created and wondered whose silence is being spoken to?
The pulse of this body of work is from a line in Med Hondo’s 1967 film, Soleil Ô, “it’s crucial to be able to select individuals capable of speaking as we do, capable of thinking as we do, capable of retaining, of absorbing, yes absorbing words as we do and above all giving them the same meaning, and so there’ll soon be millions of white-washed blacks, white-washed and economically enslaved.”
Kudzanai described the film as a nightmare. A nightmare that demonstrates how Africans are distressed by the conflict between the imagined promises of a postcolonial Africa and reality. The cruelest part is emphasised in the silence. “You have this internal conflict that you always try and quiet down. If you make it loud, if you start shouting it out, you’ll sound like you’re crazy, but you’re not crazy,” explained Kudzanai.
Lamenting with him about this conflict, Kudzanai explained how he played with the passage of time. “It’s almost like making it for my sixteen year old self and showing him these images”. Essentially in his creation of these counter-memories Kudzanai speaks to this silence that has been torturing black souls in postcolonial Africa. “It’s just an alternative of beginning a history lesson. Like if I put those images in your history textbooks and said okay this is basically how our history had turned out, what would you think of your history? And by knowing that what would your decisions be later?”
The completion of this three part series has taken years, starting with the middle, Revelations (2011), followed by the beginning, Genesis (2016), and concluding with We Live in Silence. Throughout the years, Kudzanai has been in the pursuit of creating an alternative option for himself. Alternative options that see black women as powerful opulent liberators. Alternative options that display a history that places black people in control of their future because of the firm grip they had over their past. Kudzanai has spoken with a magnificence that is coaxing us all from this silence.
We Live in Silence will be exhibited in the Goodman Gallery Johannesburg from 31 August – 14 October. There will also be film screenings of this work at Constitutional Hill on 9 September.