Ayana V. Jackson I Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum I Florine Demosthene I Patricia Driscoll I Sethembile Msezane I Mary Sibande
What do they call me… my skin is black, my back is strong and my mother’s gone? What do they call me on a winter’s day, when the sun runs cold and my love is tired? What do they call me now that my hair is down, flowing wild in the wind and no longer concealed? What do they call me now that I have looked back, now that I am here and my name is clear.
Gallery MOMO is proud to present What Do They Call Me, a group exhibition of works by Ayana V. Jackson, Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum, Florine Demosthene, Patricia Driscoll, Sethembile Msezane and Mary Sibande. What Do They Call Me examines the allegory of naming and language in relation to Her body, and the positioning of Her name(s) not as a question but as a declaration that is not up for negotiation. Thematically this calls upon the prolific Black American jazz performer Nina Simone’s song Four Women in which she embodies the names of cast type women of color whose identities have been rendered invisible behind the desires and demands of a patriarchal society; a racialised system that continues to revere and revile the female form in one breath, casting women as both mothers and hoe’s, and in that same breath controlling Her rights not only to Her name and identity, but very access to Her body and safety.
It is through this interrogation that each artist draws from experiences, histories and bodies that address directly the violence imposed by men and our societies, further engaging the impact that race, sexuality, class and language has on different women. Ayana V. Jackson’s practice imposes the stories of black women in history, such as Sarah Forbes Bonetta, onto Her own body questioning the real effects histories tradition of miss-naming and erasing has on Her experience of the contemporary world. Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum speaks this past into the future, presenting us with Her processes of myth-making, introducing us to Asme, the artists alter-ego turned heroine, an attempt to reimagine Her not only in the future but in the present and past. Florine Demosthene challenges this black heroines viability in this world, interested in how her physical presence is controlled by set ideals and behaviours, Demosthene instead looks into her inner psyche and moments of self-realisation as inherently tethered changing and tethered to the temporal. Her body disappears completely into time in the works of Patricia Driscoll, as the relationship between time, land and visibility raise questions around the terms of being seen and the privilege of a women’s relationship to how her body is seen. This privilege is addressed in the photographs and sculptures of Sethembile Msezane which contest the absence of the black female body in the monumentalisation of public spaces focusing on the omission of iconic black women in history and mythology. Mary Sibande then boldly presents us with many iconic incarnations of herself, allowing her fantasies to play out through her complex personhoods of African Women whom continue to create worlds and narratives outside of the cannon of western imperialism.
At the core of the names proclaimed and transformations is each artist’s fundamental power to gather other’s voices, powerful voices, women’s voices that demand departure and a radical transformation. No man, person or society can silence this.