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Lungiswa Gqunta: Sleep in Witness

8 July – 30 October 2022

Henry Moore Institute, Leeds

  • The largest exhibition to date by Lungiswa Gqunta

    (b.1990, lives and works in Cape Town).

  • Two new interrelated installations made for the exhibition.

  • Gqunta uses sculpture to unveil the violent and systemic legacies of colonialism.

This exhibition of new and recent work by Lungiswa Gqunta will be the sculptors largest to date. Gqunta unveils the violent and systemic legacies of colonialism that prevail in South Africa.

Close up photo of Lungiswa Gqunta’s sculpture 'Ntabamanzi' made from barbed wire and blue wool.
Lungiswa Gqunta, detail of 'Ntabamanzi' 2022. Photo: Rob Harris.
Photograph of Lungiswa Gqunta's mothers, mid-1970s. Courtesy the artist.

Working across assemblage, installation, video and works on paper, Gqunta uses familiar objects that create a lexicon of the home, landscape and the urban. Scent, including that of petrol and the threat it brings, and sound, such as the rhythmic singing in her videos, are also important elements. The symbolism within her materials runs deeply, conjuring layers of colonial history and multiple versions of the present.

Gqunta’s work creates immediate encounters with political apathy, privilege and the underlying forces that structure South Africa. Lungiswa Gqunta: Sleep in Witness opens with two interrelated installations made for the exhibition. In the first, rocks formed from blown and moulded coloured glass are piled as mountains. Their watery colours and translucency suggest a sense of existence between solid and liquid, the permanent and the fleeting. Glass has been used extensively by Gqunta, making reference to petrol bombs and South Africa’s dop system, where employers pay labourers with alcohol, in turn leading to dependency. In earlier works such as Lawn 2016, pristine grass lawns are replicated out of partially smashed bottles — the violent histories of colonialism revealed as the foundations of land ownership, privilege and the places where only some may walk. The new installation continues the artist’s conversation with landscape, identity, belonging and seizure: the glass sculptures rest on soil that covers the gallery floor to be walked upon.

Spread like a vast drawing in space, seemingly endless lengths of barbed wire fill the Institute’s central gallery for the second new installation. The steel is painstakingly wrapped in cotton fabric and, as with the glass, the labour needed to work with this material is demanding and has risk. Coloured in shades of the sea, only the barbs pierce through the fibres and occasionally catch the light. The history of barbed wire is entangled with that of colonial force, from the displacement of the indigenous peoples of the North American ‘prairie’ through to the racial segregation imposed in South Africa under apartheid. Amidst the part wave, part forest-like structure of the installation may be found a path to walk through with caution.

Landscape, memory, water and the body are linked throughout Gqunta’s work, at times becoming interchangeable as lines are drawn between earth, place, the artist’s community and her ancestors. In the exhibition’s final room, the high-key video projection Gathering 2019 shows bedsheets billowing and pulled between two women ready for folding. The domestic labour becomes a site of knowledge exchange from one generation to the next; a private act representing a moment of learning, understanding the strategies of resistance and healing against oppression. Across her work, Gqunta uses sculpture to foreground the experience of Black women within these narratives, which so often are overlooked.

The exhibition is curated by Laurence Sillars, Head of the Henry Moore Institute and continues a strand in the Institute’s exhibitions programme which presents important sculptors of today whose work is yet to have full exposure in the UK. A series of free research events and activities accompanies the exhibition. Full details to be announced.

Photograph of the exhibition 'Lungiswa Gqunta: Sleep in Witness', showing the artist's sculpture 'Ntabamanzi' made from barbed wire and blue wool. The sculpture is designed to look like a wave breaking against the wall of the gallery.
Lungiswa Gqunta, 'Ntabamanzi' 2022. Photo: Rob Harris.

Notes to Editors

About the artist

Lungiswa Gqunta (b.1990) is a visual artist working in performance, printmaking, sculpture and installation. She has also held the following solo exhibitions: Tending to the harvest of dreams (2021), ZOLLAMTMMK Museum of Modern Art, Frankfurt; Lungiswa Gqunta (2019), Apalazzo Gallery, Brescia, Italy; Qwitha (2018), WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town; Poolside Conversations (2017), Kelder Projects, London; and Qokobe (2016), WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town. Noteworthy exhibitions include Ubuntu a Lucid Dream (Upcoming 2021), Palais de Tokyo, Paris; Mercusol Bienal Brasil, The Faculty of Sensing ,Kunstverein Braunschwe,Germany (2020); Living Forgiving Remembering, Museum Arnheim, Netherlands (2020); Garden of Earthly Delights, Gropius Bau, Berlin (2019); NOT A SINGLE STORY II, Wanas Konst Museum (2018); The Planetary Garden, Cultivating Coexistence, Manifesta Biennial 12, Palermo (2018) and the15th Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul, Turkey (2017).

Her work forms part of the public collections of the Kunsthaus Museum, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, The University of Cape Town and Zeitz MOCAA. Gqunta has also been an artist in residence at the Rjiksakademie in Amsterdam. Gqunta has also attended the Gasworks Residency, London; Women on Aeroplanes workshop, Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos, and the Nirox residency, Cradle of Humankind in 2018.

In addition to her independent practice, Gqunta is one of the founding members of iQhiya, with whom she participated in Documenta14 and Glasgow International.

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