Mohau Modisakeng: Passage

May 11, 2019 to August 04, 2019
This three-channel video, South Africa’s entry in the 2017 Venice Biennale, meditates on slavery’s impact dismemberment of African identity. In Setswana, the experience of life is referred to as a “passage.” The Setswana word for life, botshelo, means “to cross over,” and people are bafeti (voyagers), a recognition that the experience of life is transient; it has a beginning and an end, as with any voyage.
In each of the artwork’s three projections, we are confronted with a character – a woman with a hawk perched on her arm, a young man in a Trilby hat, and a woman wrapped in a Basotho blanket. The arched shape of the boat frames each passenger with their heads pointed towards the prow; each travels with a single possession. As the passengers lie motionless on their backs looking up at the sky, they perform a series of actions that move between gestures of struggle and resignation. A pool of water slowly forms beneath their bodies. The rising water gradually floods the well of the boat, eventually leaving the passengers submerged while the boat slowly sinks and eventually disappears. The ebb and flow of water, as both life giving and deadly, symbolizes the many who have arrived or departed from South Africa in trade, as cargo or as transient bodies belonging to no particular state.