Overwhelmed comes to UJ Art Gallery this May

Overwhelmed explores what objects and materials already overloaded with personal meaning and political implications reveal when pushed to work even harder as artworks. The implication of an overwhelmed object is that it is in crisis, undergoing a fundamental shift due to external influences. In different ways, each artist allows continuous overwhelming as a potential space of recuperation and habitation. This exhibition grapples with ways of approaching matter and meanings from the point where overburdened frameworks burst and overflow. This gathering of vivid imagery and fragments of greater wholes tackles the state of being overwhelmed, piece by piece. Whether grappling with the overflow of colonial systems or teeming domestic interiors, the artworks present ways to navigate and build within too muchness. 

In her installation of objects and videos, Al-Shazly speaks to colonial debris and the ongoing reproduction and repercussions of imperial modes of thinking. Continuing the theme of domestic objects with global reach, Shoni Netshia considers the interior lives of familiar domestic objects within Black homes. While Al Shazly reconsiders the unsettling implications of 18th and 19th-century crockery, Netshia provides rich narratives of the doily through video, photographic prints, and collected words. Conradie addresses issues of creolized identity through decorative objects associated with her ancestry. She processes porcelain figurines, elaborate glass vases and crockery to reinvent them as baroque sculptural conglomerations. Sacks make new multiples with unbaked clay, rusting cast iron and flimsy cardboard that respond to the contradictions of remote designs for local environments.      

Opening Event: Sat 6 May at 11am at the UJ Art Gallery

Artist Presentations (Al Shazly and Conradie): Wed 10 May at 1pm at the FADA Auditorium

Artist Walkabout (Netshia and Sacks): Sat 20 May at 11am at the UJ Art Gallery

Interdisciplinary Roundtable Discussion: Sat 3 June at 3pm at the UJ Art Gallery

Working from Overwhelmed

This roundtable tackles overwhelming images of Africa that see it as beset by postcolonial poverty and pollution from the position of working within African institutions. External top-down solutions and theories that ignore local voices exacerbate already overloaded situations are challenged. Teachers and artists engaged in a range of disciplines broach ways of coping with a crisis of imagining Africa. The panel’s binding theme is taken from Ruha Benjamin’s (2022) idea of viral justice, wherein everyday experiences, and small actions, can be a potential foundation in building community-orientated, decolonized environments. Rejecting superficial rhetoric of unity and sameness, each discussant considers how cultural theories of delinking from essentialism can be practised through the realities of academic teaching in writing, artmaking and design within heightened states of tension. We discuss how emerging voices manage ways of bearing overloaded schedules while producing new knowledge. 

About the Artists

Mai Al Shazly

Mai Al Shazly is an Egyptian visual artist, visual researcher and potter based in Cairo who is a University of Johannesburg (UJ) Artist in Residence in 2023. She works with photography, film, writing and recently re-appropriating archival material in different mediums. She has participated in Paris Biennale des Photographes Du Monde Arabe Contemporain 2019, and was nominated for an artist residence in Switzerland and exhibited her work during Verzasca Foto Festival 2018, as well as participating in a collective work at Biennale Africaine de la photographie at BAMAKO 2017. Most recently, she received a self-organisation fund through Mophradat 2021, worked on a video and experimental film production through Goethe Institute Kairo in collaboration with Contemporary Image Collective 2017, received a production grant through Pro Helvetia Cairo 2016. Al Shazly ’s work focuses on identity and its relationship with the surrounding environment and the current political issues. In her upcoming work, she speaks about the colonial debris at the dinner table and the continued production of imperial modes of thinking that comes with their reproduced objects.

Shonisani Netshia

Shonisani Netshia lectures painting in the Department of Visual Art at the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, University of Johannesburg. In most of her works she uses IsiShweshwe fabric, and crocheted doilies as a visual references in the production of large to small scale paintings. In these, she explores how, through painterly alteration and transformation, shifts can occur in the meanings of patterns derived from these culturally-loaded sources. In her recent works she negotiates her role as a homemaker, nurturer, working mom, and wife by drawing from a selection of ‘culturally-loaded’ objects from her mother’s home. These objects symbolise and carry with them a sense of nostalgia from a specific era in her mother’s life, and hers. In her work she explores how, through painterly alteration and transformation, shifts can occur in the meanings of patterns derived from these culturally-loaded sources. In her recent works she negotiates her role as a homemaker, nurturer, working mom, and wife by drawing from a selection of ‘culturally-loaded’ objects from her mother’s home. These objects symbolize and carry with them a sense of nostalgia from a specific era in her mother’s life, and hers. She is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Johannesburg. Her PhD research explores the visual manifestation of black respectability within the home as a domestic environment through the use of objects such as ornaments, tea sets, and crocheted doilies in particular.

Ruth Sacks

Ruth Sacks is a visual artist and academic whose creative practice is based in artist books, writing and installation. She is a lecturer at the University of Johannesburg (Visual Art Department) and was a doctoral fellow at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER). Sacks’ body of work combines found and made objects to talk about how constructions attached to particular political regimes decay. Thinking with the process of things becoming something else, Sacks builds new objects with lively surfaces. The remainders of faulty plans and problematic public monuments are combined with found objects to form new ecosystems within the exhibition space. Solo exhibitions include: Concrete Ecologies at PULP (Johannesburg, 2022), Matterings at TPO (Johannesburg, 2017), Open Endings at TTTT (Ghent, 2015), 2,000 Meters Above the Sea at CHR (Johannesburg, 2012), Double-Sided Accumulated at Extraspazio (Rome, 2010), and False Friends at Kunstverein (Amsterdam, 2010). Group exhibitions include: Style Congo: Heresy and Heresy at CIVA (Brussels, 2023),  AMBERES at M KHA Museum of Contemporary Art (Antwerp, 2019), Future Africa: Visions in Time at the National Museums of Kenya (Nairobi, 2017), The Global Contemporary: Art Worlds after 1989 at ZKM |Centre for Art and Media (Karlsruhe, 2011), Performa 09, facilitated by the Museum for African Art (New York, 2009), and the African Pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennale (Venice, 2007). Sacks’ first academic monograph Congo Style: From Belgian Art Nouveau to African Independence (Michigan University Press) is being published this year.

Stephané Conradie

Stephané Conradie is a lecturer in printmedia at Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town, South Africa. Although primarily a trained printmaker, her artistic practice is invested in bricolage assemblages with a focus on object ontologies. Her research and practice stem from a fascination with how people arrange sentimental objects in their homes, particularly in her family member’s homes in Namibia and South Africa. Her ornate sculptures and prints examine the histories of colonialism and creolisation embedded in domestic material culture. Conradie holds a PhD in Visual Arts at the University of Stellenbosch, where she completed her MA in Visual Arts (Art Education). Most recently Conradie was included in Materiality (2020) an exhibition at the Iziko National Gallery, the Megalo International Print Prize 2020, Kingston, Australia and Black Luminosity (2021) curated by Gcotyelwa Mashiqa at SMAC Gallery in Stellenbosch, The vibration of things, The 15th edition of the Triennial of Small Sculpture, Fellbach, Germany (2022), (IM)MATERIALITY, Águeda Arts Center, Portugal (2022), Souvenir, a solo exhibition at Whatiftheworld, Cape Town (2022) and Find/Fuse, a two-person exhibition with Elise Thompson at Ceysson Bénétière, New York (2023) curated by Maëlle Ebelle & Francesca Pessarelli. Conradie’s work is held in several private and public collections namely the Leridon Collection, France, GAUTREAUX Collection, Cansas City and UNISA Art Gallery, South Africa.

UJ Arts & Culture 

UJ Arts & Culture, a division of the Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture (FADA) produces and presents world-class student and professional arts programmes aligned to the UJ vision of an international university of choice, anchored in Africa, dynamically shaping the future. A robust range of arts platforms are offered on all four UJ campuses for students, staff, alumni and the general public to experience and engage with emerging and established Pan-African and international artists drawn from the full spectrum of the arts. 

In addition to UJ Arts & Culture, FADA (www.uj.ac.za/fada) offers programmes in eight creative disciplines, in Art, Design and Architecture, as well as playing home to the NRF SARChI Chair in South African Art & Visual Culture, and the Visual Identities in Art & Design Research Centre. The Faculty has a strong focus on sustainability and relevance, and engages actively with the dynamism, creativity and diversity of Johannesburg in imagining new approches to art and design education. 

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