Kudzanai Chiurai’s recent show, Harvest of Thorns at the Goodman Gallery Johannesburg, takes its title from the book Shimmer Chinodya on the guerrilla warfare that ensued after Rhodesia split form Britain in 1965. The works in this exhibition similarly explore public acts of violence and the subjectivity of mourning.
The artist’s statement explains that “the exhibition interrogates a contemporary African notion of sacrifice, though not enquiring into its necessity”. Chiurai alludes to ritual practices of war, cleansing and burial, which are innate even as they are disturbing. The violence and sacrifice are evidenced in the mediums that he uses – sheepskin, bandages, wood, red beads and bronze horns.
Of this series of works, Chiurai explains that it:
Grapples with the issue of conflict in the contemporary moment in Africa. The spaces within which conflict has been taking place vary to the extent of our own understanding of what defines conflict. Our understanding of resolution is therefore also brought to the fore as we question the validity and nature of force used in our attempts at peace.
Chiurai’s ambivalence towards violence implicates the viewer, whose act of impassive ‘looking-on’ becomes a lived metaphor for the ‘innocent bystander’ who sees all yet does nothing. This is most magnified in Chiurai’s three-part video installation, where on each side of the room a different catastrophe is playing out at an agonisingly slow speed, and all you can do it watch in the uncomfortably closed-off and darkened space.