Life Less Ordinary: Performance and Display in South African Art @ Djanogly Art Gallery

Walking into Life Less Ordinary at the Djanogly Gallery, I was lulled into a false sense of security. Rows of photographs greet you at the entrance; from the stern faces of head dress clad tribal chiefs, to the farms of sun-ripened labourers, I smiled at the quaintness of Alfred Martin Duggan-Cronin’s pre-Apartheid scenes of native life. However, to either side of the wall of photographs, encased in evocative red boxes are the rotating images of passbooks: symbols of race classification and oppression during apartheid.

This antagonistic use of space continues throughout the exhibition, which simultaneously challenges, shocks, moves and at times repulses. Nandipha Mntambo’s sexually charged Iqaba Lami, is unavoidable in the otherwise empty floor of the first gallery – a full cast of the artist’s body in cowhide that is both grotesque and sensual – it confronts head-on preconceptions about the female body.

Despite the challenges of the exhibition, the ultimate feeling that I took from Life Less Ordinary was one of positivity. The act of self expression displayed in some of the work, and the rare privilege of anonymity demonstrated by artists such as Searle or Athi-Patra Ruga serves as a reminder of the progress made since those stony passbook faces. By no means does this exhibition create a utopian image of today’s South Africa, but its existence alone feels like a step forward.

Must see:
Dineo Bopape’s Dreamweaver video and installation for a demonstration of the immediacy of the medium, instantly disorientating and engaging.

Victoria Urquhart


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