12 . 02 . 20 – 28 . 02 . 20
SMAC Gallery is proud to present How To Say It, a collaborative exhibition with Galerie Cécile Fakhoury (Abidjan, Dakar, Paris), bringing together works by Jabu Nadia Newman (b. 1994, South Africa) and Dalila Dalléas Bouzar (b.1974, Algeria).
Jabu Nadia Newman’s video, untitled: friends (2019), opens with a chorus of intimate voice notes. Where one would expect to feel an air of intrusion, the opposite occurs—the video has the effect of levitating the viewer into a web of quiet moments in friendships (even if some are rather disquieting). There is a familiarity in the cacophony of messages from friends, connecting you to the work in a manner that feels ‘close to home’. In a moment in-between the audio and images slows down. A perplexed speaker rambles, “I don’t know how to say it.” Perhaps it is this accompanied by an almost sarcastic, “hmmm” that follows the statement, that captures the essence of what we say when we don’t want to say hard things, even if we do know how to say them.
The wrapping and the layering in the video distracts the eye. It envelopes the subject, cocooning the sharp edges in the backdrop of the mundane. The inside of this cocoon feels like a safe space for transformation. This is later reflected in a moth’s soft wings, flapping against a jersey in Concerning Consent (2020), its fragility emphasised by all that is left out of the frame. The voice notes guide us through the stories like field notes, a mimesis for the unscripted-ness of life, with hiccups, perplexed wanderings, and rants tinged with care. The voice notes speak to a personal archive stored in soundbites—one that is imbued with both temporality and permanence.
Dalila Dalléas Bouzar’s video, Inner Past (2016), is another inflection of how to say it. It is a way of knowing how, without really saying how. In the video, Bouzar carefully packs years of personal hand-written journals into a box, and later sets them alight inside a tiny house. It is in this symbolic doing that she comes to reckon with her inner past. In acknowledging her journals as field notes, it becomes an archive that she can let go of, incinerating it in a symbolic funerary pyre. Ceremoniously and mournfully, the archive goes up in flames, a cremation as such, celebrating both a journey and an ending.
Moving away from this notion, Bouzar’s paintings look to the complexities of representation and how it affects individual subjects. Portraiture becomes central within this exploration. Bouzar’s familial history dictates an identity in flux—moving between Algerian and French representations. Her work questions the power structures that have informed our perceptions of nationality, visual identity, race, culture, and so forth. Working from Dakar, Bouzar asks of her subjects to stare back at their painter—initiating a confrontation in the exchange between social actors. This action is an inversion of the hierarchies embedded within a historical mode of art-making, reworking the process as a method for the decolonisation of representation within portrait painting.
In the title of the exhibition, How To Say It, we are presented with an instruction. However, it does not care to elaborate—an unclickable clickbait. It parades as if it offers answers, but perhaps all it offers are more questions. It is in the unknowing that it speaks its truth. It is in the unknowing that we find ourselves growing closer.