Democracy is incompatible not only with the foundational elements of the human subject, but also with the various systems and institutions that support dominant forms of subjectivity or humanism in general. In other words, democracy is incompatible with structural racism and institutionalized or systemic violence; democracy is incompatible with neocolonialism and neo-imperialism; democracy is incompatible with the instruments that reproduce the conditions for and possibilities of capitalism; democracy is incompatible with race discourse, Eurocentrism, ethnocentrism, and humanism—all of which have become the dominant ways in which reality is conceptualized, interacted with, and historicized.
Gagosian is pleased to present Meleko Mokgosi’s first solo exhibition in the United Kingdom and Europe, drawn from his grand project Democratic Intuition (2013–20).
In works of sweeping scale and scope, Mokgosi applies the principles of cinematic montage to the conventions of history painting, editing together images of political and social propaganda, religious imagery, and advertising from southern Africa and the United States to produce layers of meaning both familiar and unfamiliar. Reconceptualizing where art history, postcolonial nationhood, and democracy intersect within an interdisciplinary critical framework, Mokgosi draws attention to the many ways in which Black subjects have become unattributed objects of empire and institution.
Democratic Intuition is an eight-part epic that includes multi-panel depictions of southern African life and folklore; its title is a nod to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s theory that the functioning of democracy is dependent upon accessible education. Mokgosi engages this concept and its internal contradictions through compelling genre scenes—often involving prominent figures from public life—that jump-cut between the confines of manual work, the freedoms of intellectual enterprise, and their ties to gender and race. A parade of finely drawn characters emerges out of raw canvas backgrounds, portraying the asymmetries of power that underscore traditional divisions of labor.
One chapter in the series, Bread, Butter, and Power (2018), is an elaborate twenty-one-panel panoramic painting, wrapping around the walls of an entire gallery, that abounds with overt references to recent social and political histories, as well as diverse associations brought together imaginatively to make a conceptual point. In one panel, uniformed schoolgirls, painted in meticulous detail, till a field of soil rendered in broad abstract strokes; in another, a group of elderly South African military veterans in uniform are gathered, two women seated at the front, as if for a reunion photograph; in a third, two women in period dress embrace in an imagined domestic tableau that contains, among other visual cues, a portrait of a defiant young Harriet Tubman, dressed in the black, green, and red of the Black Liberation flag; a self-portrait by Cameroonian photographer Samuel Fosso in the guise of Black radical Angela Davis; and Mokgosi’s own protest poster in ANC colors, which refers to the people’s battle cry following the infamous Uitenhage massacre in 1985: THEY WILL NEVER KILL US ALL.
In the chapter Objects of Desire (2016–20), individual small paintings of Afrocentric beauty advertisements, Paleolithic cave paintings, and contemporary African objects are grouped together with text paintings in both English and Setswana, in which lines from museum wall labels, poems, and dinaane (oral histories) are accompanied by Mokgosi’s own critical marginalia. His annotations confront the erasure of African languages by racist policies under apartheid and reclaim these varied mother tongues. Key references for this chapter were the Museum of Modern Art’s controversial exhibitions “Primitivism” in Twentieth Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern (1984–85) and Objects of Desire: The Modern Still Life (1997), both notorious for framing historical African artworks as anonymous sources for early European modernism.
Key chapters of Democratic Intuition were brought together in a major exhibition at The School in Kinderhook, New York, during 2019–20. A catalogue documenting the entire Democratic Intuition project will be copublished by Jack Shainman Gallery and Pacific Editions at the time of the London exhibition. During the exhibition, gagosian.com will host a curriculum and a series of online international seminars organized in collaboration with the artist.
Coinciding with Democratic Intuition is a special collaboration between Mokgosi, Gagosian, and the urban art initiative W1 Curates on an outdoor digital installation of monumental scale. The project comprises an algorithmic sequence of image fragments and text panels from Mokgosi’s narrative paintings, digitally adapted to the full scale of the Flannels flagship store at 161–167 Oxford Street in Soho. The sequence will play in a ten-minute loop across the three-story LED facade of the building twenty-four hours a day, beginning at midnight on October 1 and through October 18.
Meleko Mokgosi and Louise Neri
On the occasion of Meleko Mokgosi’s recent exhibition Democratic Intuition, the artist speaks with Louise Neri about notions of pedagogy, the nation state, and value systems wrapped up in his visual epic.
Meleko Mokgosi: Democratic Intuition
Meleko Mokgosi writes about his eight-chapter painting cycle Democratic Intuition (2013–20), an epic of southern African life and folklore, on view at Gagosian in London in his first solo exhibition in the United Kingdom and Europe. Introduction by Louise Neri.
Thursday, December 17, 2020, 1pm est
Gagosian is pleased to partner with the Decolonising Arts Institute of the University of the Arts London (ual) in hosting a dialogue between Meleko Mokgosi and Isaac Julien, moderated by Zoé Whitley, director of Chisenhale Gallery, London. The two artists will discuss narrative and montage strategies in their respective practices as painter and filmmaker. The event will be introduced by Gagosian director Louise Neri and ual Decolonising Arts Institute director susan pui san lok. To join, register at zoom.us.
Left: Meleko Mokgosi. Photo: courtesy Vilcek Foundation. Right: Isaac Julien. Photo: Thierry Bal
Thursday, December 10, 2020, 1pm est
Gagosian is pleased to partner with the Centre for the Study of Contemporary Art at University College London (ucl) in presenting a dialogue between artists Meleko Mokgosi and Michael Armitage. The two African artists will discuss the politics of contemporary figurative painting and their concurrent exhibitions—Meleko Mokgosi: Democratic Intuition at Gagosian, London, and Michael Armitage: Paradise Edict at Haus der Kunst, Munich. The conversation will be introduced by Gagosian directors Louise Neri and Jona Lueddeckens, and moderated by Tamar Garb, professor of art history at ucl, whose research focuses on gender and sexuality, race and representation, and contemporary art in southern Africa. To join, register at zoom.us.
Left: Meleko Mokgosi. Photo: courtesy the artist. Right: Michael Armitage. Photo: Theo Christelis © White Cube
Thursday, November 19, 2020, 1pm EST
To mark the publication of Meleko Mokgosi: Democratic Intuition, Gagosian and Jack Shainman Gallery will host a dialogue between the artist and critic Antwaun Sargent. Published by Pacific with Jack Shainman Gallery, the book documents Mokgosi’s epic painting project Democratic Intuition (2013–20), which explores the internal contradictions of the theory that the function of democracy is dependent upon accessible education. Compelling genre scenes, often involving prominent figures from African public life, jump-cut between the confines of manual work, the freedoms of intellectual enterprise, and their ties to gender and race. In a conversation introduced by Gagosian director Louise Neri and moderated by Jack Shainman Gallery director Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels, Mokgosi and Sargent will discuss the artist’s interdisciplinary investigation of postcolonial nationhood and the democratic process. To join, register at zoom.us.
Meleko Mokgosi: Democratic Intuition (New York: Pacific Publishing, 2020). Photo: Dan Bradica © Pacific
Relics and Fly Paintings
Open from June 5, 2021
Britannia Street, London