in Frieze London | 10 OCT 23

donna Kukama, ‘The Swing (after After Fragonard)’   

Referencing an iconic moment of frivolity in a time of revolution from art history, Kukama reinterprets a playful act into a critique of the power dynamics at play in contemporary Johannesburg

in Frieze London | 10 OCT 23

donna Kukama   

The Swing (after After Fragonard)   

2009, 4 min 56 sec  

donna Kukama’s The Swing (after After Fragonard) (2009) documents a performance that took place at the Kwa Mai-Mai Market in the east end of the inner city of Johannesburg. The muthi, or herbal medicine, market is also known as Ezinyangeni (translated as 'the place for healers') and includes a cooking and eating area; a shisanyama where grilled meat is prepared for patronage by mostly minibus taxi drivers and people who live and work in the ‘second economy’ of the east end of inner-city Johannesburg. The Swing (after After Fragonard) forms part of a series of staged interventions that revolve around a particular gesture drawn from archival research conducted by the artist, which then accumulates new and often troubling references through strategic reconfiguration and redeployment. For this performance, the painting The Swing (1766) by Jean-Honoré Fragonard – an emblem of ancien régime frivolity in the shadow of the impending French Revolution – served as a point of departure, while the doubling of ‘after’ in the work’s title also acknowledges Yinka Shonibare’s 2001 sculptural installation The Swing (after After Fragonard). Kukama’s swing is therefore an intervention in representation within art history, while at the same time critiquing the socio-economic dynamics of contemporary Johannesburg. Layering Setswana proverbs, gasps, the voices of women at the scene, and incomprehensible whispers in French, the soundscape within the work is an extension of Kukama’s poetic gesture to reimagine a different set of power dynamics within these landscapes. 

About donna Kukama 

donna Kukama (b. 1981, Mafikeng) engages performance as a tool for creative research. Through her interdisciplinary practice, she weaves major and minor aspects of histories, introducing fragile and brief moments of ‘strangeness’ within sociopolitical settings. Her performances are to be understood as gestures of poetry with political intent; inserting foreign, ‘undocumented’, voices into history by occupying sites and territories that remember less-told stories. Kukama has exhibited and performed at numerous institutions including, most recently South London Gallery (2022); Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Deurle (2022); Power Plant,Toronto (2022); and Wits Art Museum, Johannesburg (2022), where she presented her solo exhibition ‘Ways-of-Remembering-Existing’. Major international exhibitions include the Belgrade Biennale (2018); Bienal de São Paulo (2016); Moscow Biennale (2015); Lyon Biennale (2013); and Venice Biennale (2013). Kukama currently lives and works in Cologne where she is a Professor of Contemporary Art with a focus on the Global South at the Academy of Media Arts. 

donna Kukama, The Swing (after After Fragonard), 2009, 4 min 56 sec. Courtesy of the artist and blank, Cape Town  


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