(*traditional South African celebratory cry of a goal being scored)
- Andrew Dosunmu, Images from African Cup of Nations, Launda, Angola (Angolan supporters), 2010. Digital Print. 200 x 150 cm. Private Collection
The opening of Halakasha Soccer Exhibition triggered my first symptoms of football fever as hosts Standard Bank went all out to create the ambience of a soccer match with much fanfare, flags and vuvuzelas (embellished soccer trumpets).
The art exhibition also conveys the fervour and frenzy of the colourful ball game – and just how far fans will go to respond to feelings of team allegiance and nationalism.
Halakasha captures the spirit of the game within a historical context while illustrating how deep rooted soccer is in the psyche of many people across the world, on the African continent and in South Africa, first time hosts of FIFA World Cup™ in Africa.
What is particularly fascinating to me is the extent to which the human body is treated as a vehicle for articulating an individual’s sense of national identity and affinity to a particular team. This is conveyed in almost every art form represented, but most strikingly in the photography and wooden carvings.
Imaginative use has been made of the large circular gallery space on the first floor by converting it into a stadium-like display showcasing the creative scope of the emblematic South African makarapa (elaborate soccer headgear crafted from mine safety helmets). The sports fans are vibrantly represented by the makarapas that gaze upon a group of wooden sculptures, centre field. These include Jackson Hlungwane’s, Christ Right foot forward, 1987, and his Hand of God, 1989, referencing the religious zeal football inspires. Hand of God also alludes to French football star Thierry Henri’s infamous touching of the ball with his hand to score a controversial goal in an important qualifying match.
Throughout the exhibition curator Fiona Rankin-Smith has innovatively combined art and soccer by ingeniously juxtaposing contemporary art, so called ‘traditional’ African art, photography, video installations, projections and popular street art in the form of painted barber signs by Ghanaian and Congolese artists alongside mass produced paraphernalia.
Refreshingly new conversations are sparked by the reinterpretation of works and genre, for example, by combining the Makonde (Mozambique), Lipiko (Helmet Mask), wood, pigment and hair, with Penelope Siopis’ Pinky, Pinky Ronaldo, 2002.
Another interesting aspect of the game is the divination practices of isangoma and inyanga, diviners and healers. They use traditional medicine and ritual practices to ensure a winning performance from their favoured team, and for protection from the magic of rival traditional practitioners. To give voice to such issues, the exhibition includes herbal remedies associated with the game.
A delightful surprise on show is Gerard Bhengu’s two pencil and watercolour on paper works, including The Goal, 1926.
The exhibition goer seeking gravitas and groundbreaking new works may be disappointed. But for me Halakasha is a celebration of Africa’s first hosting of this phenomenal global sporting event and must be viewed as such. Here at least art holds its own pitted against one of the most heavily funded, powerful, big business enterprises in the world. HALAKASHA!
The exhibition runs concurrent with the tournament and ends on 17 July at the Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg.