“Waiting for Gebane” by Senzeni Marasela at Zeitz MOCAA

Cape Town’s Zeitz MOCAA is currently exhibiting some significant shows including Waiting for Gebane a solo presentation by South African artist Senzeni Marasela. The exhibition combines various media to explore topics common to Marasela’s practice such as history, memory, personal narrative, emphasizing historical gaps and overlooked figures. 

Senzeni Marasela, "Waiting for Gebane" via Zeitz MOCAA
Senzeni Marasela, “Waiting for Gebane”. Source: Zeitz MOCAA

The museum considers this show a long-due institutional focus on the work of the artist. “That it is a first, is almost unfathomable – Marasela has been working consistently and steadfastly on one of the most compelling bodies of work on the African continent by a female artist,” says Koyo Kouoh, Zeitz MOCAA’s chief curator. 

Waiting for Gebane is an overview of Marasela’s practice and based on the chronicle of her fictional alter ego called Theodorah Mthetyane – which was inspired by Marasela’s mother. Theodorah’s story begins when her husband, Gebane, leaves her behind in a village in the Eastern Cape when he sets off to work in faraway Johannesburg. After many years of waiting, Theodorah leaves the village for the sprawling city streets to look for her partner. In a series of photographs and textile works, Marasela is seen wearing her mother’s yellow ishweshwe dress to depict Theodorah’s search for Gebane while simultaneously honouring her mother.

In a later performance of the character that blurs the lines between performativity and everyday life, Marasela wore for six consecutive years exclusively the same red ishweshwe dress. Through Theodorah, the artist sought to explore the conditions of waiting and black women’s stories in South Africa, to make visible their subjectivities.

Source: The Art of Senzeni Marasela's Blog
Source: The Art of Senzeni Marasela’s Blog

“The idea of having multiple dresses throughout my performance work for Waiting for Gebane was an attempt to live or to walk in many shoes. Shoes that were sometimes smaller than mine, bigger than mine, wider than mine,” states the artist about her performance. “It was an attempt to multiply this experience, this heavy experience of being a black woman on the continent. And when I do re-enact, I re-enact with the aim of changing, of altering, changing until I find a comfortable position to be in as an artist, as a person.”

According to Ms. Kouoh, what fascinates her about Marasela’s work is that “It addresses and carries out, by way of re-enactments, a characteristic feature of contemporary life in Africa: waiting. She adds complexity to the act of waiting and translates it into an affecting visual language that is charged with political and historical gravity.”  

Marasela was born in 1977 in Thokoza, South Africa. She is a cross-disciplinary artist who explores photography, video, prints, and mixed-medium installations involving textiles and embroidery. She graduated from the University of Witswatersrand, Johannesburg, in 1998. Shortly after, she completed a residency at the South African National Gallery, culminating in her work for the Gallery’s Fresh exhibition series. 

Marasela has been exhibited in South Africa, Europe and the US and features in prominent local and international collections including New York’s MoMA. She was part of the 56th Venice Biennale’s Johannesburg Pavilion. Her solo exhibitions include Waiting for Gebane: Dolly Parton (2018) at Toffee Gallery and Sarah, Theodorah and Senzeni in Johannesburg (2011) at Gallery Art on Paper, both in South Africa, Beyond Booty: Covering Sarah Baartman and other Tales (2010) at Axis Gallery in New York, US, and “Oh my God, you look like shit. Who let you out of the house looking like that?”, a solo performance at Sternersen Museum in Oslo, Norway. 

Waiting for Gebane is on view from December 18, 2020 to  May 2, 2021, accompanied by a series of public programmes. 

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