Stories of mobility are strongly linked to the individual and collective search for greener pastures. This yearning for a better life, place or situation is the conceptual thread that runs through Gerald Machona’s second solo exhibition with Goodman Gallery. In this show, Machona explores past and present manifestations of this pursuit and utilises an intersectional approach to navigate the various ways in which interlocking systems of power impact and overlap with individual and collective aspiration towards greener pastures.
‘Induku enhle igawulwa ezizweni is a Zulu proverb that expresses the desire and appreciation of searching for love in faraway places or nations,’ writes Machona in an artist statement about this body of work. ‘Journeying for survival in a search to better understand oneself or even for love is not a foreign concept in tracing nomadic or migration patterns in Africa.’ But due to a past marked by segregation, South Africa has been ‘shaped [by] a culture of mistrust and suspicion amongst its citizens’. The unfortunate effect of this has been the outbreak of ‘xenophobic’ attacks against fellow Africans in the country in recent years; a reaction Machona suggest might be described better as ‘Afrophobia’.
Through his work Machona goes about dispelling these cultural stigmas by revealing stories of cross-cultural, transnational unions, space sharing and family raising. Drawing on his own experience as a Zimbabwean of Shona heritage marrying into a Zulu family, Machona reveals how a tradition such as the gift-giving ceremonies of lobola undermine essentialist concepts of gendered, national and ethnic identity. However, these traditions have remained deeply entrenched in patriarchal norms, often at the exclusion of contemporary struggles for gender equality. Machona expresses these ideas through his signature use of decommissioned currency fashioned as transnational floral arrangements as well as photographic works which depict the process of negotiating marital traditions across borders.
According to Machona, ‘the very notion that people can be ‘naturalised’ into a family, ethnicity or as citizens of a country through marriage contradicts any purist notions of national or ethnic identity rooted in [indigenousness]. What it does point out, however, is that identities are in flux and are constantly navigating across national and ethnic boundaries’.
In Machona’s case this liminality exists in his navigation of marital traditions across Zulu and Shona customs through the boundaries that separate Zimbabwe and South Africa. Such transnational cultural experiences reveal how the receding economic and social significance of boundaries, among African nation states, has in actual fact heightened interconnectivity between people.all images © the gallery and the artist(s)