A cacophony of thoughts on Africa


TOUGH king: ‘I am Zino Ari, Chief of the Kara People’, a charcoal and chalk pastel drawing on rag paper by Robert Slingsby. Photograph courtesy Everard Read Gallery.

THE ARCHITECTURAL DRAMA of the ramp and the entrance point to Circa gallery sets the tone for In/Dependence, a solo exhibition by Robert Slingsby, and the energy and force is carried through in a dramatic, intense installation, but there are elements of excess in the presentation and articulated thinking behind this collection of work that is so dazzling, you lose your focus and yearn for something to help you. A text, a crutch, anything.

Blending a mix of digital prints on aluminium, with printed hemp canvas, drawings, bronze cast works and twisted plywood, to name but a few approaches here, the work speaks of earnest research and so much savvy, but it lacks a cohesive legible identity, and feels not able to stand alone, without the support of the comprehensive press release that Hazel Friedman has written on the gallery’s website. Is Slingsby a draughtsman or a printmaker? Is he a sculptor or the master of installation? He’s everything, but you leave the space without a clear tune in your head.

And maybe that’s exactly the point. Slingsby’s choice of images is fierce and discursive, yielding strong opinions about the shifting face of the African continent and its people. The more you look, the more you are swept into the vagaries of colonialist associations – or its implications.

The pièce de résistance of this exhibition is a massive wall-wide installation comprising eleven hemp canvas panels, collectively entitled The people melt into the darkness and disappear and the sugar cane springs up. These pieces are digital prints, their presence dominates the space. The work is cast amid a veritable sea of bright yellow blown glass flowers – indeed, these delicate and hardy blooms represent a work in their own capacity. There are 1000 individual pieces in The Flower Trap, which pays collective testimony to the land, with quirky possibilities.

The work dominates the space, forcing your footsteps and your eye, but you need to look a little closer. There are one or two absolutely magnificent charcoal drawings on rag paper which contradict the photographic aesthetic solutions in the rest of the body of work. Replete with a sculpture that lows movingly as a herd of cattle is brought into the ether of the gallery’s space, a couple of wooden furniture-like pieces and a whole fascinating display of concrete steel and glass lip plates, the work at once presents popular culture and a sense of exotic weirdness.

As the title of the work indicates, this show is as much about independence as it is a contemplation of dependence; it carries a cynical edge to life in Africa and it leaves you with a deep sense of awe. But without a cohesive energy, once that ‘wow’ moment has passed, you feel a little rudderless.

  • In/Dependence by Robert Slingsby is at Circa on Jellicoe until March 31. Phone 011 788 4805



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