adrift’s showing at the District Six Museum Homecoming Centre was Giovanni Ozzola’s debut solo exhibition in Cape Town. This presentation marked the culmination of the artist’s six-month interaction with Southern Africa. His experiences and travels in the region informed and augmented the body of work on exhibition.
A well-known space of contention in South African history, District Six embodies, in its continued discourse, the close connection between culture, location and identity. The District Six Museum and Homecoming Centre is a space in which all members of the South African and International community are invited to experience and acknowledge the on-going effects of South Africa’s turbulent past.
Ozzola often speaks about a feeling of connectedness, despite being physically alone; “the remnants of life before, will always provide a connection to life ahead”. An example of this can be seen in the central piece titled Sharp-Anamnesis (2016), a brass bell found in Cape Town, and stamped with the words “Amers Kerk 1952”. Engraved upon the bell are significant words gleaned from local District Six community members’ personal accounts of their current fears, dreams and hopes. The combination of past and present within this single object allows for the work to become a symbol of memory and communal consciousness. In addition, the bell, as a functional object, represents a musical note or sound. This sound is often used as a means of announcement or summons, a form of communication to a larger group. The sound produced by a bell, remains the same despite the circumstances, or period, in which it is produced.
This exhibition is presented against a backdrop of South Africa’s complex history of land and the dislocation of communities. Giovanni Ozzola’s knowledge of contemporary visual culture and experience gained through frequent travel to various countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Cuba, China and Azerbaijan, has afforded the artist a unique and veracious insight into non-western cultures and practices which informs his work. Discovery and exploration are themes that thread themselves intricately throughout Ozzola’s oeuvre, primarily conceptually, and later materialising as symbols and commemorations of historical expeditions. These ideas are inseparable from South Africa’s heritage, hence Ozzola’s exhibitions in Cape Town and Stellenbosch.
The significance of internationally acknowledged artists engaging, first-hand, with the complexities of a South(ern) African identity, should be emphasised. The artistic process of re-examining socio-political constructs is imperative in cultivating a public desire that attempts to understand cultures of such vast and overwhelming variety, so steeped in complex histories and discourse. Exposing and presenting the way in which others view South(ern) Africa is vital to the region’s understanding and clarifying of it’s own identity.
Offering artists, of both local and international origin, the opportunity to exhibit their experience of South(ern) Africa, within the region, opens a platform for discussion, critique, explanation and, finally, understanding. The nuanced relationship between place and art is one that requires constant re-assessment, and providing rostrums for such activity is the one of the many functions of a contemporary gallery operating within a local context.
adrift offers a visually fascinating and poetic experience. Each artwork is thought provoking and free from assumption, implication or accusation, while still engaging personally with audiences.