ALISA SWINDELL, Associate Curator of Photography
During the dark months of winter and through the summer people passing the Hood Museum will be able to experience a video work, Ga Bose Gangwe, by the South African artist Mohau Modisakeng. This graceful expression of resilience and determination will be on display in the vitrine window above the doors of the museum through August 2023.
The title is taken from a Setswana (a Bantu language spoken in southern Africa) proverb: phiri o rile ga bo se gangwe, which translates to "better luck next time" or "do again" or "try again."1 In the video a sense of hope within a struggle is given life through the movements of eleven Black male dancers wearing billowing white skirts. Over the course of the video, the men partially ascend from the floor of a bare white space and then lie back down. Stretching, arching, and flexing their bodies, the men repeat this sequence, at times rising higher but always being pressed back down by an unseen force. This short piece—only 2:15 minutes in length—is meant to be viewed on a loop. As the repetition in the video reinforces, a beauty can be found in the men's unwavering resolve to reach their objectives (both individually and as a group), even though their efforts are continually thwarted. With a spare visual language Modisakeng explores a human need to keep trying in the face of adversity.
Ga Bose Gangwe has been said to address "[the] hopes and wishes of a majority of South Africans who associated political liberation with a promise for a better life. The work meditates on the notion and experience of freedom, or the lack thereof, within the context of South Africa's historic struggle for social, political, and economic liberation during and after apartheid."2 Modisakeng was born in Soweto in 1986, shortly before South African apartheid was brought to an end. Growing up during this transitional period, the artist witnessed both the aspirations and expectations of Black South Africans for a postcolonial nation and the negative effects of global power structures on the reformed country. Embodied in the dancers' gestures, Ga Bose Gangwe encapsulates, with brevity, Modisakeng's hopes for and frustrations about the ways history continues to play a role not only in his own life, but also in the lives of his fellow South Africans and, indeed, in those of the people across the African Diaspora.
1. See https://www.setswana.co.za/proverbs/index.php.
2. Antwaun Sargent, "A Powerful Piece of the Venice Biennale Comes to Brooklyn," Vice, June 5, 2017, accessed September 6, 2022, https://www.vice.com/en/article/8x9np4/venice-biennalebrooklyn-we-buy-gold.