Kudzanai Chiurai

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa
V&A Waterfront, Silo District, S Arm Road
September 22–March 31

View of “Kudzanai Chiurai: Regarding the Ease of Others,” 2017. Center: “Conflict Resolution,” 2012.

“You can’t escape politics,” Kudzanai Chiurai once said to CNN, not that anyone who has followed his meteoric rise to fame would ever accuse him of skirting the issues. Since gaining notoriety (and status as a political exile) for an incendiary portrait of Robert Mugabe—Abuse of Power, 2009—the thirty-six-year-old Zimbabwean multimedia artist has galvanized contemporary African artists to engage such thorny subjects as corruption, xenophobia, and internecine conflict. His arresting exhibition at this newly inaugurated institution, Cape Town’s first museum of contemporary art, brings together key bodies of work from the past decade or so, including excerpts from his 2012 series “Conflict Resolution” that were shown at Documenta 13.

In what might be a reference to Susan Sontag’s 2003 book on war photography, Regarding the Pain of Others, the show’s title, “Regarding the Ease of Others,” alerts us to the indivisible problem of subjectivity. Like Sontag, Chiurai is concerned with the gendered authorship of history and constructs alternative narratives. His glossy, highly stylized tableaux of fictional militant groups, where women are illustrated as central figures of influence, shine a light on the typically masculine poetics of power and war. Shrewd and often humorous lithographs and photographs of fictional African leaders in his series “Dying to Be Men,” 2009, and “Revelations,” 2011, explore what one might call the iconography of despotism—corybantic warlords and politicians replete with AK-47s, gold chains, and fur coats.

The selection of videos, photographs, drawings, posters, and paintings presented in this survey mount a sustained critique of the Christian and colonial narratives that still mark the political, economic, and social conditions of present-day southern Africa; together, they offer a coruscating meditation on power, paternalism, and patriarchy, while reflecting on symbols of democracy—and their misappropriation.

— Genevieve Allison