Existing in the shadow
Vanessa Tembane, curated by Olwethu de Vos

FNB Art Joburg (online)
6 – 18 November 2020

For FNB Art Joburg’s 2020 online LAB section, INCCA presented the solo exhibition Existing in the shadow by artist Vanessa Tembane, curated by Olwethu de Vos.

Existing in the shadow featured works from the series “Muito estrangeiro para o lar”, translated as “too foreign for home” in Portuguese. South African-born, with Mozambican heritage, Tembane conceived this body of work after an encounter with her grandmother in 2018. Tembane and her mother went on a 915,2 km drive to Zavala, Mozambique. When they finally arrived, her grandmother was picking peanuts in the far end of the compound. Tembane and her mother began to walk towards her; she was walking ahead of her mother. When they were close enough to each other, Tembane noticed that her grandmother had a strange expression on her face; it was as if she did not recognise her. She had only called her by name when her mother stood beside her. Upon reflection, that’s when Tembane realised that this has occurred in almost every encounter with her grandmother and even some of her family members. “This encounter with my grandmother reminded me of how I am my mother’s shadow, in that I only exist by virtue of light hitting her”, Tembane explains. In other words, Tembane is only recognised by her grandmother when she is beside her mother. She felt that she is not a being in herself, rather a bi-product of her mother’s existence in that moment.

Tembane’s work is inspired by her mother’s narratives and explores how they have influenced her identity and sense of belonging. Her collages allow her to merge her photographs taken in South Africa with those of her Mozambican relatives and to create strange hybridised composites. The collages combine photographic cut-outs with details of swathes of fabric – capulanas – that were given to Tembane by her grandmother and aunts during occasional visits to Mozambique. Existing in the shadow is an extension of Tembane’s perception of her grandmother in the sense that she is not a being by herself either, due to the lack of communication and recognition between her and her grandmother without her mother’s presence. In addition to this, Tembane configures her sense of identity and belonging within her mother’s narratives of the past.

Image credits: © Vanessa Tembane

Independent Network for Contemporary Culture & Art
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