Nirox – Uncomfortable Stories

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Death was in the room, portrayed with astonishing sensitivity, respect and gentleness.

Sculptures, conveying the concept of Story, lounge in various parts of the most beautiful landscape at the NIROX sculpture garden, in Johannesburg. I knew I couldn’t give them all the individual attention they deserve in one visit, so I focussed on one or two.

A garden house with sunlight streaming through the windows and shadows of candles cast across the floor, took me under its spell. Gentle bells, attached to plaited hair pulls, hung from the rafters. Stepping inside was a sacred zone – an intimate space where a coffin lay within the inner sanctum. Death was in the room, but portrayed with astonishing sensitivity, respect and gentleness.

This was a call to come closer and be informed of hideous truths, without being exposed to crude, graphic, Hollywood type details.

There are actually two exhibits sharing this space:
Sethembile Msezane – ‘Signal Her Return iii’ – synthetic hair, candles, bells, 2018
Zanele Muholi – ‘Koze Kubenina‘, perspex coffin, video installation, 2018

Both refer to the undignified and sometimes violent, deaths of certain South African females.

How do you explain the horrendous to ears that don’t want to hear? You write it, make pictures of it, sing it, dance it – use all devices to connect with the emotions – to tell the stories in different ways.

This is just one representation of their work but both are well accomplished artists. Sethembile Msezane does mesmerizing performance and Zanele Muholi is a performance activist. Google will help fill in the details. I learned a lot through research.

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‘Travels of the rememberers’ is a collaborative project of artists Ingrid Mwangi(Nairobi) and Robert Hunter (Germany) – 7 steel huts with prints and marks made using acetic acid. They nestle in a dip in the land and can be seen as a settlement from further away. Close up ethereal music welcomes. I can poke my head in through different windows – there’s tangle of string within. If walls could talk, they would tell me stories from all the different angles. No doors exist – in this transient world there is no place to rest. The structures will rust with time, testifying to the nature of our impermanent world.

There were references throughout the park to the ‘Dangers of a single story’, a quote by writer Chimamanda Ngozi. It’s well worth listening to her TED talk.

I left the NIROX sculpture exhibition knowing:

“some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity.”

Gilda Radner

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