Spring Awakening is a multi-sensory group exhibition by Southern Guild encompassing painting, sculpture, photographic work, ceramics, wearable art, textiles, and sonic pieces. The exhibition whose title references the play written by Frank Wedekind will include work by more than 20 artists and designers.
Like the play, the exhibition revolves around the dualities of birth and death, ebullience and tragedy, pleasure and pain. And in doing so, it focuses on the multiplicity of the human experience. We spoke to curator Lindsey Raymond about its conception, curation, and execution.
“It was born from an incubated brainstorm session where scribbled mind-maps were whittled down to artworks, designs, and practices that answered to themes of transformation, rebirth, loss, decay, and healing. Importantly, Spring Awakening began to feel as if it was taking form out of the necessity for something ‘new’, collaborative, playful, and intentional,” she says.
To align with the themes, she had the artists and designers develop works that consider the role of renewal and growth, loss and decay, and included existing works that aligned to the brief.
Spring Awakening arises from the idea that spring is a time of ecological, physical, and psychological change. By opening the exhibition in the southern hemisphere’s Autumn/Winter, the gallery intentionally veered away from spring as a season guided by the Gregorian calendar and more towards the conceptual nature of such a time.
“For artists such as Cheick Diallo in Mali and Dominique Zinkpe from Benin, the notion of spring is western and does not exist — there is a wet season and a dry season.”
Described as a journey for the senses. Raymond paints a vivid picture of what to expect: “On entry, visitors will be welcomed by a customised aromatic with grapefruit as the top note. This is intensified by a variety of vivid colours, from acid green to pale pink, and patterns that move across the cold smoothness of fibreglass and aluminium to soothing leathers and wool.
“As the viewer walks through the space, subtly painted wall tones trick the eye into questioning whether they are white or tinted. The viewer’s movement is pulled towards a cinematic soundscape by sonic healer Sisonke Papu who heroes the nyatiti [a five to eight-stringed plucked lyre from Kenya] in his piece.”
Since the layout of Southern Guild allows for spatial play, the gallery’s four differentiated spaces have informed the mood and movement of the exhibition, which begins as a dreamy fantasia and matures to a more grounded and reflexive reality. Furthermore, Jeanne Hoffman, who fuses interior and exterior scenes in her paintings, paid a visit and created site-specific paintings, including the gallery’s classical archways. These have been subtly highlighted in the exhibition’s set design.
Asked about assembling such a diverse group of artists and designers into one space, Raymond says: “Integration is less interesting to me than relation and representation. Rather than ‘curating by colour’, I wanted to honour and engage with each work’s specificity, so that they hold space both individually and collectively, rather than become one homogeneous blur.”
The titular “awakening” evokes the impression of spirituality and new consciousness. “Spirituality holds a key position in Southern Guild’s programme,” Raymond explains. “As a team or guild of makers and thinkers, we are propelled by an authentic and intuitive common purpose to showcase African materials, motifs, traditions, and techniques. A spiritual sensibility heightens this instinct ... and I would say is integral in positioning oneself in the world and with others.”
Furthermore, the artists’ work reiterates this theme. Shirley Fintz has created a series of sculptural ceramic totems that represent different elements of spiritual awakening; Mthatha-based artist and igqirha Sisonke Papu will contribute a healing intervention that includes a photographic work and “spiritual tech” soundscape; the work of Rich Mnisi and Andile Dyalvane relates to spiritual realms of healing informed by ecology and tradition; Githan Coopoo and Talia Ramkilawan use spaces to host reminders of generational trauma but which have been re-communicated to present love, acceptance, and joy; and Lea Colombo, Ghada Amer and Jozua Gerrard explore the internal and external worlds of comfort, play, and exploration.
The works include Brutalist-inspired ceramic sculptures by Martine Jackson evoking the fierceness and tenderness of feminine power. Figurative sculptor Justine Mahoney will show folklore-inspired figures in ceramic and Beninese artist Dominique Zinkpè will showcase paintings and assemblage sculptures made from carved wooden Ibeji dolls.
As Southern Guild evolves to further represent the intersection between design and art, the gallery is more drawn towards narrative-driven work that has a unique voice, distinguishable style and perspectives, as well as impeccable skill and craftsmanship. The artists they have included embody all these qualities, along with drive and an enthusiasm for creating.