In November 2017, Kudzanai Chiurai’s ﬁrst solo exhibition in his home country, We Need New Names, went on view at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe. Its timing was prescient. While the country’s longstanding former President Robert Mugabe was being ousted through a military-led coup, Chiurai was exhibiting his politically-driven work, which combines art historical imagery with references from popular culture and archival material to explore the visual language and tropes that help construct myths, history, and ultimately power.
Under the continued curation of Candice Allison, Madness and Civilization re-stages this exhibition alongside new works and research that highlights Chiurai’s creative projects over the past two years. It takes its title from Michel Foucault’s seminal 1964 text Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. In so doing, the exhibition maintains Chiurai’s practice of revisiting and rejecting ‘colonial futures’, which fuel the notion that Africans should think, speak, and act like their colonizers.
The entry point into Madness and Civilization is a new series of mixed-media drawings. Fashioned in the likeness of screen-printed propaganda critical of white supremacy in 1970’s Rhodesia-Zimbabwe, the drawings are collaged with found letters, photographs, and images torn from The Kaffirs Illustrated, a reprinted folio of watercolour paintings originally produced in 1849. On top of each drawing, Chiurai has inscribed imagined letters by Foucault, writing on the intrinsic nature of madness — a diagnosis Chiurai believes was used to motivate colonial expansion and white minority rule in Africa and continues to serve as a contributing factor to the failure of post-colonial African nation states.
In addition, Madness and Civilization presents a selection of images from Chiurai’s photographic series Genesis [Je n’isi isi] (2016) and We Live in Silence (2017). The gallery’s video room features the ﬁlm We Live in Silence: Chapters 1-7, which recently screened at the Berlin International Film Festival, and later this year will head to the Rencontres du Film Court de Madagascar and Dak’Art Biennale. Several listening stations also offers visitors the chance to browse Chiurai’s library of vinyl records, which include a selection of Zimbabwean Chimurenga and South African anti-apartheid struggle music, as well as rare recordings of speeches by Ian Smith, Kwame Nkrumah, Mobutu Sese Seko, Dr Martin Luther King, author Alex Haley, and a dramatic re-enactment of the trial of Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale.
Kudzanai Chiurai was born in Harare in 1981, where he currently lives and works. His work was the focus of two major solo surveys in 2017 including We Need New Names at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, Harare; and Regarding the Ease of Others at Zeitz MoCAA, Cape Town. Other solo exhibitions have taken place at MoCADA, New York (2015); RISD Museum, Rhode Island (2015); Kulungwana Gallery, Maputo (2015); and Brixton Art Gallery, London (2003). Notable group exhibitions include In Their Own Form at Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago (2018); Ex Africa presented by Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, Belo Horizonte in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Brasília (2017-18); Africa. Telling a World at Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea, Milan (2017); Being There at Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris (2017); The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory and Hell Revisited at Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt (2014) and SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah (2015); dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel (2012); Impressions from South Africa, 1965 to Now at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (2011); and Figures & Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (2011). His ﬁlm Iyeza was included in the New Frontier shorts programme at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013, and was awarded a Jury Special Mention at the Melbourne International Film Festival that same year. He was awarded the FNB Artist of the Year award in 2012 and shortlisted for the 2014 Future Generation Art Prize.