SHIFTING HISTORY: Takunda Billiats Faith Overboard Part 2 (2016). Fibreglass and acrylic paint.

Thuli Gamedze

LAST year saw the rise of power of mass mobilisation in order to confront South Africa’s complex past and present. At the very centre of this movement lay a reassessment of the monument and the visual symbols and ideologies contained within it.

The Commune.1 gallery is presenting a group exhibition that focuses on the monument. Each artist presents a plinth based sculpture.

These maquette sized monuments include memorials to the self or to an ideal (be it poetical, political or personal) and further investigate a history that is ever-changing and shifting, countering the notion of the monument as a permanent and impenetrable structure.

New Monuments features work by Takunda Billiat, Rory Emmett, Lungiswa Gqunta, Bronwyn Katz, Bonolo Kavula, Olivié Keck, Rodan Kane Hart, Isabel Mertz, Siwa Mgoboza, Caitlin Mkhasibe, Ledelle Moe, Jacob van Schalkwyk, Brett Seiler, Marlene Steyn and Martin Wilson, until Saturday.

A new conversation has rapidly emerged in the past while, articulating, in various ways, that the notion of the monument is one that needs to be challenged and re-understood in the South African context now. However, this assertion quickly glosses over the kind of institutionalised and seemingly inherent place that the monument, as it has been defined by outsiders, settlers, has in our society.

What makes the monument, what forms its valued ‘place-ness’, and would it perhaps be more useful to try to uncover the ideology forming the very notion of ‘monument’ before attempting to transform it, liberalise it, democratise it, or diversify it?

Any solidly defined, articulated and aestheticised representation of the now, that is privileged enough to presume its relevance in the future, is a dangerous object. As we have seen through multiple 2015 student protests, where many of us were conscientised through mobilising around the violence of colonial symbolism, a monument is not simply a representation – it gives strength to ‘stacicity’, it validates regime, and affirms its own position in an attempt to prove timelessness.

While the monument still stands, so then does the status quo it holds in its (most likely bronze) hands.

So for these reasons, we are forced to engage with the notion of the monument, and of course too, we must conceptually pull it apart, imagining new ideas that we would like to occupy public space. However, if we do this with the idea in mind being to replace, we give ourselves very little space in becoming, and in doing so we begin to validate a colonial action by mimicking its process of making power into object, and allowing object to be central in forming static ideology. Objects are not the problem, and neither is it power or ideology.

It is the monument’s relationship with these entities that gives it the elite position it has in colonialist society.

This position seeks to still time, and asserts itself as having proud and never-ending value. New monuments should perhaps not call themselves monuments at all.

The nature of the exhibition becomes rather playful, engaging with the possibility of the monument ‘object’, and attempting to push and pull its form, working around but within its constraints to find out whether in fact, there exists ideology or principle worth concretising, even temporarily.

l The Commune.1 gallery is at 64 Wale Street