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