Kahlo, Sher-Gil, Stern: Modernist Identities in the Global South

25 October 2022 – 22 February 2023

Kahlo, Sher-Gil, Stern: Modernist Identities in the Global South features the works of three pioneering women artists, Frida Kahlo, Amrita Sher-Gil and Irma Stern, together in South Africa and in Africa, for the first time.

The exhibition examines the constructions of ‘cosmopolitan’ and ‘indigenous’ identities through portraiture and self-portraiture. Contextualising the locations where the artists produced from at a particular point, the exhibition provides an archive of their experiences, inspiration and collections during this time. It offers an intimate experience with an iconic artwork by each artist.

This is the third and final exhibition that concludes JCAF’s first research theme Female Identities in the Global South.

Make a booking here.

Photo credits: Fritz Henle, Frida in her studio (1943). Courtesy Fritz Henle Estate | Umrao Singh Sher-Gil, Amrita at her easel. Simla, India (1937). Courtesy The Estate of Umrao Singh Sher-Gil and PHOTOINK | Irma Stern in her studio (1936). Courtesy National Library of South Africa, Cape Town

Liminal Identities in the Global South

03 August 2021 – 26 February 2022

Liminal Identities in the Global South forms part of JCAF’s first research theme: Female Identities in the Global South. The second of three exhibitions in this theme explores hybridity and resistance in the artistic practices of seminal women artists from Latin America, alongside artists from the MENA region, the African diaspora and South Africa. The exhibition considers heterogeneous forms of expression across art, architecture and music, from the 1960s to the present.

Download the catalogue here.



Liminal Identities in the Global South explores hybridity and resistance in the artistic practices of seminal women artists from Latin America, alongside artists from the MENA region, the African diaspora and South Africa. The exhibition considers heterogeneous forms of expression across art, architecture and music, from the 1960s to the present.

Given the impact of Covid-19, the pandemic body is a second curatorial thread running through the exhibition. The pandemic has placed many of us in a state of limbo or liminality, so that we are caught between a pre-Covid-19 world and one in which we imagine a better future.

The exhibition is divided into five areas: Prelude, Requiem, Movements I, II and III, each consisting of a particular colour based on the coronavirus alert levels. Moreover, each area is conceptualised according to a musical tempo, either moderate, fast or slow, denoting a time-based experience of the exhibition.


Andante (moderate)

The exhibition begins with a Prelude, an archive that includes the concept of anthropophagia (cultural ‘cannibalism’ or assimilation) developed by Oswald de Andrade in his Manifesto Antropófago (1928), and embodied in the painting Abaporu (1928) by the painter Tarsila do Amaral. In the 1970s, architect Lina Bo Bardi developed a quintessential Brazilian architectural language derived from indigenous vernacular expression. These concepts resonate with contemporary South African society, which is engaged in asserting itself against Western postcolonial cultural domination through various decolonising movements.


Lacrimoso (tearfully)

Covid-19 has placed many of us in a state of limbo, so that we are caught between a pre-Covid world and one in which we imagine a better future. The pandemic can be understood as an ‘event’ – a rupture in the normal run of things. As such, it changes our perception of the world around us. Within this liminal state, the exhibition reflects on previous pandemics such as the Black Death (bubonic plague, 1346–1353) and the Spanish Flu (influenza, 1918–1920).

Movement I

Allegro (lively)
  • ligs4

The pandemic body is a second curatorial thread running through the exhibition and is alluded to in the masks that appear in the works. The ubiquity of the mask in our time is at once ominous and comforting. Masks filter the air we breathe, helping to prevent infection and possibly death, since it is through breathing that we can be infected by the virus.

Movement II

Lento (slowly)
  • ligs6

This section of the exhibition explores the precarious nature of life, suggested by images of the female body in the landscape, rituals performed by women, and bouquets of flowers that decay over time. The passage of time, which encompasses death, ritual and trace, points in turn to liminality.

Movement III

Grazioso (gracefully) + Crescendo
  • ligs8

During afflictions and disasters such as the coronavirus pandemic we discover our ‘radical vulnerability’ and the need for grace. In this section eternity is represented by the colour gold and by luminescence and reflection.

Artist Biographies

Jane Alexander (1959–) was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. She obtained an MAFA from the University of the Witwatersrand in 1988. Select exhibitions include: Venice Biennale (1995); ‘The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa 1945–1994’ (2001); ‘Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent’ (2004); Gwangju Biennale (2014).

Lina Bo Bardi (1914–92) was born in Rome, Italy. She obtained an architecture degree from the University of Rome in 1939 and shortly thereafter moved to Brazil, where she spent most of her life. Select exhibitions include: Venice Architecture Biennale (2009); ‘Lina Bo Bardi: Habitat’, MASP Museum, São Paulo (2019); ‘Lina Bo Bardi: Together’ organised by the British Council and the Lina Bo and P.M. Bardi Foundation, exhibited in London (2012), Chicago (2015) and São Paulo (2016); ‘Lina Bo Bardi Dibuja’ at Fundación Joan Miró, Barcelona (2019).

Lygia Clark (1920–88) was born in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil. She studied with Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, and then with Isaac Dobrinsky, Fernand Léger and Árpád Szenes in Paris from 1950 to 1952. Select exhibitions include: São Paulo Biennale (1959); Venice Biennale (1960); Documenta (1997); ‘Tropicália: a Revolution in Brazilian Culture’, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2005); ‘Lygia Clark: the Abandonment of Art 1948–1988’, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2014).

Kamala Ibrahim Ishag (1939–) was born in Omdurman, Sudan. She graduated from the College of Fine Arts Khartoum (1963) and the Royal College of Art, London (1966). Select exhibitions include: Whitechapel Art Gallery (1995); National Museum of Women in Art, Washington DC (1994);  ‘Women in Crystal Cubes’, Sharjah Art Foundation Art Spaces (2016).

Kapwani Kiwanga (1978–) was born in Hamilton, Canada. She studied anthropology and comparative religion at McGill University. She was the winner of the Marcel Duchamp Prize (2020) and the inaugural winner of the Frieze Artist Award (2018). She has been on group exhibitions at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, as well as the Whitechapel and Serpentine Sackler galleries in London, and held a solo exhibition at the MIT List Visual Arts Center (2019).

Ana Mendieta (1948–85) was born in Havana, Cuba. When she was twelve she and her sister were sent to live in the USA as refugees. She obtained an MFA from the University of Iowa in 1977. Select exhibitions include: ‘Ana Mendieta: A Retrospective, New Museum, New York (1987); ‘Ana Mendieta: Earth, Body, Sculpture and Performance 1972–1985’, Hirshhorn Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC (2004); ‘Ana Mendieta’, Art Institute of Chicago (2011); ‘Ana Mendieta: Covered in Time and History’, Jeu de Paume, Paris (2018).

Lygia Pape (1927–2004) was born in Nova Friburgo, Brazil. She was a founding member of Grupo Frente in 1954, then developed ideas that would combine with the defining principles of the Neo Concrete Manifesto, of which she was one of the signatories. Select exhibitions include: Venice Biennale (2003); Haus der Kunst, Munich (2004); ‘Lygia Pape: Magnetized Space’, Serpentine Galleries, London (2011); ‘Lygia Pape: A Multitude of Forms’, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2017).

Berni Searle (1964–) was born in Cape Town, South Africa. She received her MFA from the University of Cape Town (1995). Select exhibitions include: ‘Approach’, Krannert Museum, Champaign, Illinois, Johannesburg Art Gallery and USF Contemporary Art Museum, Tampa, Florida (2006–7); Dak’Art (2012); Havana Biennale (2012); Venice Biennale (2001, 2005); Cairo Biennale (1998); Johannesburg Biennale (1997).

Sumayya Vally/Counterspace (2015–) is an interdisciplinary architectural studio led by Sumayya Vally. Through her design, research and pedagogical practice, Vally is committed to finding expression for hybrid identities and contested territories. Johannesburg serves as her laboratory for finding speculative histories, futures, archaeologies and design languages, and for revealing the invisible. Her work is often forensic, and draws on performance, the supernatural, the wayward and the overlooked as generative places of history and work. She is based between Johannesburg and London and is the lead designer for the Serpentine Pavilion 2020 plus 1.

Contemporary Female Identities in the Global South

Contemporary Female Identities in the Global South (16 September 2020 – 30 January 2021) forms part of JCAF’s first research theme: Female Identities in the Global South. The first of three exhibitions in this theme explores multiple constructions of female identities by five women artists whose practices are embedded in the Global South.

Explore the virtual tour of the exhibition below.

Curatorial Statement

This exhibition proposes a realm in which these subjects explore worlds of their own choosing, in which they might be mother, martyr, warrior or hybrid. The exhibition is divided into three areas or worlds. The first is configured around the Fall which evokes the biblical story of the Garden of Eden, a realm where the natural and human worlds meet.

The animal-human hybrid figures represent the second world of the exhibition. Hybridity refers to the mingling of species, races or cultures, a crossing of one thing with another. These figures are both abject and powerful, beautiful and repulsive. This uncomfortable ambivalence is meant to provoke a response in the viewer, who must consider the relationship between themselves and other, different subjectivities.

In the third world of the exhibition, the viewer is reminded that the body is real and embedded in race, religion and identity. They offer an intimate depiction of women, who are transformed by the aging process, or whose faces are concealed behind Farsi calligraphy or veils of Belgian lace. 

The exhibition design presents three other-worldly or dream-like spaces, connected by metaphorical ‘bridges’ that nonetheless draw attention to the constructedness and tangibility of the exhibition environment. Lorraine O’Grady expresses this conceptual framework of identity bridges:

Because I was raised by West Indian parents in one of the most traditional areas of New England culture, Boston’s Back Bay, my childhood placed me at a distance from wherever I stood and required me to always build a bridge to some other place. One had to be several things at once … both Caribbean and New England, both African American and West Indian, both black and white … and to daily negotiate the differences ….

Bharti Kher

Bharti Kher is based in New Delhi. Her work explores cultural misinterpretations, social codification and hybridity. She has come to be known for the use of the bindi as a central motif in her work, which often explores the link between tradition and modernity and is deeply concerned with the role, experiences and conceptualisations of women in India.

Bharti Kher, Warrior with cloak and shield (2008). © Bharti Kher. Image courtesy the artist. Photo Guillaume Ziccarelli | View of Bharti Kher in her studio in New Delhi, a multi-storey space where Bharti produces her artworks, which also houses her collection of Indian artifacts and heritage that inspire her process. Photo by Bharti Kher Studio

Nandipha Mntambo

Nandipha Mntambo lives and works in Johannesburg. Working in photography, sculpture, video and mixed media, she explores the interconnectedness of human and animal, feminine and masculine, and attraction and repulsion. Her work tests and challenges perceived antitheses, while also exploring female experiences in and of the body.

Nandipha Mntambo, What Remains (2019). © Nandipha Mntambo. Image courtesy Stevenson, Johannesburg and Cape Town | The artist giving a tour of her studio, image courtesy of the artist

Wangechi Mutu

Wangechi Mutu lives and works in Nairobi and New York. Her films, sculptures, collages, installations and paintings explore femininity, violence, consumerism and excess, and the intersection of nature and culture, frequently challenging depictions of women and the female body throughout history.

Wangechi Mutu, A Dragon Kiss Always Ends in Ashes (2007). © Wangechi Mutu. Image courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels | Portrait of Wangechi Mutu, 2019. Photo by Cynthia Edorh

Shirin Neshat

Shirin Neshat is an Iranian artist based in New York. She works in photography, film and video, on themes such as gender, identity and politics, examining the contrasts between Islam and the West, and the spaces in between.

Shirin Neshat, Soliloquy (1999), film still. © Shirin Neshat. Courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels | The artist working in her studio, inscribing her photographic works with Farsi calligraphy texts by Iranian poets. Photo by David Regen

Berni Searle

Berni Searle lives in Cape Town and works in the time-based media of photography, video and film. In her performative narratives, the self is a figure that embodies history, land-memory and place. Often politically and socially engaged, her work also draws on the universal emotions associated with vulnerability, loss and beauty.

Berni Searle, Lament IV (2011). © Berni Searle. Image courtesy the artist | The artist working in her studio. Photo by Chris De Beer Procter