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National Identity and the Language of Bodies: A Group Show at Whatiftheworld

Whatiftheworld’s latest exhibtion, Foreign Bodies launched on Saturday, 5 December. Dealing with issues of national identity and belonging, the group exhibition features the works of Mohau Modisakeng, Sanell Aggenbach, Julia Rosa Clark, Pierre Fouché, Dan Halter, Athi-Patra Ruga, Rowan Smith and Moffat Takadiwa.

While the artworks on this exhibition appear disparate at first glance, but there are coherent threads that tie the works together. The exhibition text states that the “bodies” in the title references the corporeal language of political and national discourse – “heads of state”, “the long arm of the law” etc. But the “bodies” are also the citizens whose physical selves are the site of these abstract concepts. There’s a similar ambiguity in how “foreign” can be read and interpreted. The exhibition text reads: “The first [interpretation] calls to mind the figure of the migrant entering “local” space – a stranger in a strange land – and the second suggests an intruding parasite that triggers an immune reaction in a body made suddenly strange to itself. Each is foreign only inasmuch as they penetrate an already porous frontier, and that frontier is at best merely an idea of difference: the border is, after all, a site where otherness is not just held at bay but actively constructed. Without borders between skin and world, indigenous and foreign, how would we know where “we” end and the rest begins?” 

Many of the artworks on the show are woven or composed of discarded material. On the surface the works speak to banal domesticity, yet there’s a hint of disruption in the home. In Rowan Smith’s Hiding White two feet protrude from behind a seemingly innocuous curtain, while in Dan Halter’s Patterns of Migration the figurative sculpture appears to strides along in dapper style, but wearing a suit composed of “refugee bags”. In Pierre Fouche’s Brett Posing for Imaginary Portrait of Raymond Buys, the white thread is unraveling, erasing the self-involved subject. 

Moffat Takadiwa’s sculptural wallhanging is composed of tech and household junk – keyboards and plastic bottle tops; the detritus of urban aspiration and throw-away culture. Julia Rosa Clark’s collage Placards series positions itself slap bang in the middle of the undefined boarder space whilst simultaneously questioning this position.

The exhibition takes the temperature of national belonging. In light of the horrendous xenophobic attacks that took place this year, that reading is understandably uncertain. Without claiming authoritative answers, Foreign Bodies engages what is alien to us – biologically, psychologically, socially, personally and politically – and examines how we might better read bodies not our own. 

Foreign Bodies is showing at Whatiftheworld in Cape Town until 23 January, 2016.

'Placard 2, Figure and Ground Exercises (Möbius strip,…e Two Sides)',

‘Placard 2, Figure and Ground Exercises (Möbius strip,or how can a continuum have two sides)’, Julia Rosa Clark

'Placardes 1-10, Figure and Ground Exercises (Möbius strip, or how can a continuum have two sides?)', Julia Rosa Clark

‘Placardes 1-10, Figure and Ground Exercises (Möbius strip, or how can a continuum have two sides?)’, Julia Rosa Clark

'The Narratives', Moffat Takadiwa

‘The Narratives’, Moffat Takadiwa

'Spiniferlictus', Sanell Aggenbach

‘Spiniferlictus’, Sanell Aggenbach

'Spiniferlictus', Sanell Aggenbach

‘Spiniferlictus’, Sanell Aggenbach

'A Jazzy Kind of Decimation', Athi-Patra Ruga

‘A Jazzy Kind of Decimation’, Athi-Patra Ruga

'Patterns of Migration', Dan Halter

‘Patterns of Migration’, Dan Halter

'Dombormari (Blue)' Dan Halter

‘Dombormari (Blue)’ Dan Halter

'Untitled', Mohau Modisakeng

‘Untitled’, Mohau Modisakeng

Brett Posing for Imaginary Portrait of Raymond Buys. Pierre Fouche

‘Brett Posing for Imaginary Portrait of Raymond Buys’, Pierre Fouche

'Hiding White', Rowan Smith

‘Hiding White’, Rowan Smith

'Hiding White', Rowan Smith

‘Hiding White’, Rowan Smith

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