Graphics to appall the gods


ONLY connect: Scarily bad graphics in Tabita Rezaire’s lightbox work, Dilo.

Let’s take apart the internet, Matrix style, she says. Let’s reveal it as the crass, manipulative, racist mechanism that it is, she says. It’s a cancer in our midst, premised on shallow values and colonialist mindsets, she argues. Let’s heal ourselves of the rubbish it brings into our lives. Nothing wrong with these sentiments of Tabita Rezaire. Just a pity about the exhibition’s presentation.

Exotic Trade is French-born Guyanese/Danish artist Rezaire’s first solo exhibition, and while it expresses really fabulous ideas about Ifa divination and binary mathematics, about knowledge that is stolen and knowledge that needs to be remembered, it lacks the kind of visual sophistication that would give all this thinking the dignity of gallery support.

In this way, the Goodman Gallery’s hosting of this material as it is seems misplaced or not sufficiently thought through. Comprising several large scale projections, and a number of Diasec prints, filled with kaleidoscopic detail that draws together visual values from Nigerian ancient cultures and Egyptian ones, as well as a fabulous trio of cast bismuth crystal snakes called Celestial Hiss, which is arguably the highlight of the whole show, the body of work is increasingly mesmerising and discomforting, but not for the right reasons. When you reach the display of the pink gynaecological chair, complete with stirrups and a looped video, entitled in all earnestness, Sugar Walls Teardom, you might have to control the urge to laugh out loud with uncontrollable abandon or run in unabridged horror: it’s like the final scene from Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckinridge, only you are ostensibly the subject.

The most troubling aspect of this exhibition which promises a yoga outlet, however, is the graphics of the different bits of videoed material. They’re compiled with the kind of unsophisticated hand that discovers for the first time the huge variety of fonts on Coreldraw and wants to use each and every one of them. There’s a stilted quality to the graphics – and an uncomfortable and obvious ways in which images of Rezaire herself are segued with a reptile – which pleads for a more sophisticated collaborator and deeply damages the validity and impact of the message she’s trying to convey.

You might come to this exhibition wanting to be mesmerised, wanting to lose yourself in the folds of possibility that it promises, but instead, you’re confronted with a poorly made video presentation that starkly tells you how bad the world is and how you need to realign yourself with the “politics of pleasure”.

The opening video Premium Connect, bombards you with 13 minutes of information: it’s a little like something from Orwell’s 1984. Only this is Big Sister and she is, what she describes herself as a “Black womxn [sic] in the face of colonialist and capitalist exploitation”, but still, she’s policing your very core, with her political correctness and alienating language in tow. If you want to come to a gallery to see good art, this isn’t it.

  • Exotic Trade by Tabita Rezaire is at the Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, until May 17. Call 011 788 1113 or visit

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