In SA, no means yes

21 June 2016 - 10:44 By Sean O'Toole

New York is where artists go to make a big splash, but Berlin is an increasingly important stopover for any artist with international aspirations. The rapidly gentrifying German capital, known equally for its slack table service and louche poolside manners, is currently hosting three exhibitions featuring South African artists.William Kentridge's impressive survey exhibition at Martin-Gropius-Bau is titled No It Is! The title has been a talking point amongst locals.In a TV interview, curator Wulf Herzogenrath explained how Kentridge opted to draw on our idiomatic habit of saying "no" when we mean "yes" as a way of plumbing a deeper national uncertainty.Kentridge's exhibition is an immersive experience.Laid out in six sections, it begins with a gorgeous 2003 film installation dedicated to French filmmaker Georges Méliès, one of the fathers of cinema, and also includes the film and sculptural installation The Refusal of Time (2012).The show makes clear the role of autobiography, collaboration, repetition and art history on Kentridge's work as an artist. It includes etchings by Albrecht Dürer and Edward Hopper as well as a woodcut print by John Muafangejo, all owned by Kentridge.The routine petitioning of the past in Kentridge's work suggests that the present is ultimately an expression of the past. In a city whose urban makeover resembles an episode of Botched, the past is however also something to be overcome.This year's Berlin Biennale certainly delivers a radical jolt of newness in its nostalgia-free survey of the present.Curated by the New York collective DIS, this technology- and branding-minded group exhibition explores the Google-influenced art of the present. Much of the "post-contemporary" art on view mimics the visual habits of marketers and state organs.If this sounds obscure, Cuss Group, a Johannesburg collective founded by fashion graduates Ravi Govender and Jamal Nxedlana with graphic designer Zamani Xolo, make things more concrete.Their Triomf Factory Shop is a retail outlet offering an own-brand beer, magazines and Jozi sass.Cameroonian cultural entrepreneur Bonaventure Ndikung's current exhibition at his gallery SAVVY Contemporary, located in a former crematorium, is a stark counterpoint to the big-budget theatrics and digital ennui of the biennale.The Incantation of the Disquieting Muse, as his show is titled, aims to disrupt pat western notions of especially African and Caribbean magic and witchery.Cape Town performance artist Buhlebezwe Siwani, who is also a practising sangoma, staged an incantatory performance on the opening night.Photographer Andrew Tshabangu and multi-media artist Minette Vari are among the 20 exhibiting artists. Tshabangu shows documents of urban magic (women tending braziers), while Vari pursues the fabulous in a murky video featuring a Kentridge-like procession of Johannesburg figures.Kentridge's 'No It Is!' runs until August 21; the Berlin Biennale is on until September 18; 'The Incantation of the Disquieting Muse' ends on August 7..

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