Dada Khanyisa – Good Feelings
In this latest presentation in their ‘solution-based practice’ – described as nakanjani (‘by whatever means’) – Khanyisa fractures their narrative process, creating solipsistic scenes set against the backdrop of communal living. Fundamentally isolated yet deeply entwined, each character is depicted as self-contained, complex and variable in these new single-panel works. Khanyisa states:
It’s about going out culture, but also going in culture – as in going into the self. And when you go in with yourself it’s easier to understand how you relate with others. That’s why I’m doing individuals - and when they’re together there’s a community.
In Good Feelings the artist also foregrounds place in an unprecedented way. Figures are sculpted waging confrontations across bar-style countertops, taking showers, taking selfies, sending voice notes, and seated at upscale restaurants. In other works the figure is absent, with lounges, kitchens and bedrooms presented as extensions of personhood. Khanyisa recounts:
“I can say that my fundamental interest is people. So [this] is taking it a step further and seeing how people live – as opposed to their direct figurative representation. Now it’s like, let’s go into their living spaces, also to give a context.”
The multidimensionality of the artist’s paintings is broadened formally, conceptually and referentially. Images sourced from social media, nightclub photography and personal relationships are supplemented with art-historical quotations including the likes of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, the classical perspective of Johannes Phokela, Sam Nhlengethwa’s Tribute works and Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, the latter as both as antiquated image and contemporary fixation. Different kinds of wood, spanning masonite to walnut, are layered with familiar textiles and painted segments of unexpected realism as Khanyisa widens their repertoire of textures, materials and finishes.
The exhibition includes sketches in lieu of the scripted or multimedia elements previously used by the artist, and over the duration of the exhibition the works will be rearranged in alignment with their relational nature. Khanyisa remarks:
“I took a lead from people just telling me what they see in the works. It made me comfortable in not just sticking to one narrative or pushing what I wanted them to see. I’m not precious about how people interpret the work so that’s why I’m shuffling the characters, seeing how they communicate next to each other and what narratives can be born from that. A different ‘next to’ tells a different narrative; the dialogue that people imagine is important.”
The titles in Good Feelings include What a Prick, Group Chat, Precoital Convos and Better than Groin Area Massages, as Khanyisa foregrounds humour, levity and intimacy. As an observer and participant in the South African socio-political terrain, the cultural scene and the Twittersphere, Khanyisa acknowledges the social facts of performativity and projection, and responds with a presentation of democratised nuance. They continue:
With this show I think I am focusing on the abstract, the emotional aspect of people and how they relate, not just depicting pretty people … Sometimes people look pretty and then the card will ‘decline’. There is just a little bit more than what we see on the surface, so that is what I consciously chose for the show - like focusing on the abstract but also pushing the physical all the way up ... These works give me Good Feelings.
The exhibition opens at Stevenson Gallery Johannesburg, on Saturday 1 February 2020, 10am to 1pm.