A Breathing Space Project
In 2020 we saw many of our assumptions about society, culture and economy upturned or broken. We saw in equal measure the emergence of possibilities for rapid and transformative change, and the deepening of existing fractures and injustices. It is clear we are inside a period of disruption that neither began nor will end with the COVID-19 pandemic, and in which the larger social-economic-ecological crises of our time become vivid and present. Against this backdrop, the Breathing Space grant programme of Pro Helvetia’s Johannesburg office looked to enable modest relief, or ‘breathing space’, for arts practitioners, organisations and networks across the subcontinent to rethink ways of working, to experiment with new formats of production, exchange and collaboration and reimagine the shape and position of cultural and creative work.
The global pandemic changed every aspect of daily life, including the way we view and access art. This project by Ghanaian photographer Kwasi Darko seeks to fuse the old with the new, fine art photography and virtual exhibition space, and challenge the traditional way in which audiences engage with art in the augmented realm through the creation of avatars.
The virtual exhibition, Physical Chaos, Digital Calm, is a dome of interaction that invites participants to experience a reality in which art can only be viewed in virtual space. The exhibition extends the the boundaries of what we understand as art to include not just the finished products hanging on gallery walls but the whole process of creation and making. This ‘behind the scenes’ view aims to provide context to the artwork and insight into the artist’s approach and work.
In response to the quarantines that have defined 2020, the virtual exhibition features works that examine our renewed relationship to the digital, whether through our personal lives, everyday interactions or within a broader Afrofuturistic imaginary.
Kwasi Darko (b. 1991) is a Ghanaian fine arts photographer and digital artist living and working in Accra and on the African continent. His work uses visual artistry and performance to create visibility and weave positive narratives for figures often overlooked in his society. Beyond exploring queer identities and spaces on his home continent, his work also explores Blackness and its many intersections, connecting it to the spaces we share and take up in the digital arena.
Kyle Malanda (b. 1994) is a Malawian photographer and filmmaker whose work explores the intersections of racial and ethnic identity, queerness, and indigenous spirituality in an increasingly globalised digital world. Her works seek to interpret Black history into her ideals for the present and imaginations for Black futures. She regularly incorporates fashion design, set design, and augmented reality into her visual works.
Nana Opoku is a multimedia creator from Ghana who works primarily with digital media. His practice involves conjuring up transcendental Afrocentric narratives as part of his Afrofuturist mission to ‘decolonize imagination’. His work typically asks and responds to questions such as: Who could we (Africans) be if we remembered who we were? Where could we go if we remembered where we came from? What futures could we create if we knew your pasts? In so doing, his work attempts to reimagine the usual tropes about Africa while espousing Pan-African motives. He views his art as portals into the multiverse of alternate African realities and also as a form of cosmic play.