GOODMAN GALLERY | JOHANNESBURG
163 Jan Smuts Avenue
August 7–September 11, 2021
While seemingly resolved a few millennia back, the question of whether the Earth is round or flat has lately seen a perplexing resurgence. For “Conditions,” his third solo exhibition with Goodman Gallery, artist Nolan Oswald Dennis approaches this debate from a different angle, interrogating the racial logics, perceptions, and affect that subtend theories of the world and its depictions. In other words, whether they posit it as flat or round, both conceptions of the Earth have something in common: a “fear of the black planet” (to quote the 1990 Public Enemy album). Palpable and at times deadly, this is the anxiety that underlies justifications for the unwarranted violence of colonization.
Through installations, sculptures, and drawings, Dennis explores different permutations of the Black globe. In model for double consciousness (hemispheres) (all works 2021), the artist slices a plaster-and-concrete sphere in half, while in cycliverse model (cosmogony), he strings together multiple globes like a strand of black pearls. For the “binary model” series, he reconfigures pairs of his deconstructed globes, even embellishing them with cowry shells to articulate a symbolic Africanist affirmation. Dennis extracts his insights from classical antiracist literary and musical material, mingling Public Enemy alongside Franz Fanon (copies of whose 1963 book, The Wretched of the Earth, are stacked on a plinth in the central installation garden for fanon). The ink drawing on a map untitled (for Achebe) ventures a two-dimensional rearrangement of the planet that centers on an upside-down Africa. These citations can be a little on the nose, but together they offer an alternate vision of the world in which we live.