Works by Mozambican artists shine brightest in the Wallach's sundry fall show.
By Sam Needleman · Published October 3, 2019.
Of the essential pieces in “After the End: Timing Socialism in Africa,” on view at Columbia’s Wallach Art Gallery until October 6, the most incisive might be a multi-media installation by the Mozambican artist Ângela Ferreira. “For Mozambique (Model no. 1 of Screen-Tribute-Kiosk Celebrating a Post-Independence Utopia),” from 2008, is a towering assemblage of wood, steel, and two projected videos. Makwayela, an anticolonial drama shot in Maputo by Jean Rouch and Jacques d’Arthuys in 1977, graces one side of the screen, and a live recording of Bob Dylan’s “Mozambique,” performed in Colorado in 1976, plays on the other. Ferreira deftly contrasts the videos, both made shortly after Mozambique gained independence from Portugal, to raise the stakes and terms of colonial, postcolonial, and decolonial story-telling—vital challenges that many of the exhibition’s radically insightful artists take upon themselves.
Illustration by Lilly Cao
Ferreira’s floor-to-ceiling geometries ascend to the scale of architecture and even infrastructure, particularly when the sculpture’s glorious slats pierce the projection of Bob Dylan’s stadium and nearly graze the gallery’s ceiling. The built environment, it turns out, permeates the whole exhibition, often as an instructive and productive palimpsest, as in a characteristically elaborate painting by Julie Mehretu, who is slated for a retrospective at the Whitney next year. In seven striking photographs of people at work, Filipe Branquinho, also Mozambican, almost splays buildings across his backgrounds, temporarily relieving them from their functions to foreground their beauty and, crucially, their near-seamless continuities with boundless sidewalks and oceans.
Other gems from this undersung exhibit—a step in the right direction for the freshly minted Wallach, which ought to emerge as an Uptown art destination for everyone—include the Angolan artist Kiluanji Kia Henda’s witty series of prints that portray a mission to the Sun, and the Ethiopian painter Mezgebu Tesema’s ominous “Weekend,” from 2016. The show’s curator, Álvaro Luís Lima, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Art History and Archaeology, suspends not time but rather our ideas about temporality and its politics, which the artists help us interrogate, shatter, and if we’re lucky, reconstruct. Rather than distill one contiguous chronology or ideology—ever a fraught pursuit for small shows with grand political schemes, at Columbia or elsewhere—the show launches us into a constellation. It’s a pleasure to pick a bright star and gaze.