The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) has announced a large-scale retrospective exhibition Shooting Down Babylon, for South African multimedia artist Tracey Rose. The exhibition, running from February until August, includes robust programming and a monograph publication. The show was initially intended to open in 2020 but was pushed back due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tracey Rose is best known for her uncompromising performative practice that often translates to and is accompanied by photography, video, installation and digital prints. Often described as absurd, anarchic, slap-dash and carnivalesque, Rose’s work explores themes around post-coloniality, gender and sexuality, and race.
Rose was born in Durban, South Africa and in 1990, she joined the Johannesburg Art Foundation before obtaining a Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg in 1996. In 2004, Rose attended The South African School of Motion Picture Medium and Live Performance and later obtained her Master of Fine Arts at Goldsmiths College, University of London, United Kingdom in 2007.
The title of the exhibition is derived from Rose’s iconic installation Shooting Down Babylon (The Art of War) (2016), which reflects on varied exorcist and cleansing rituals. The retrospective will interrogate several themes, including repatriation, recompense and reckoning, and epitomises the wide-ranging medium and concerns prevalent in Rose’s practice. This body of work is an important investigation around post-apartheid legacies and liberation movements, and uses the body – often Rose’s own body – as a site for protest, outrage, resistance and pertinent discourse. For the artist, the body is a channel for the demonstration of exasperation, aggravation, disruption and paradox.
“Very few artists have the genius and thematic agility that South African-born Tracey Rose has. She is able to probe pertinent issues in ways that are sometimes satirical, paradoxical and multifarious all at the same time,” says Koyo Kouoh, Executive Director and Chief Curator at Zeitz MOCAA. “Her versatility in choice of medium and material dexterity is evidenced through her bold performative practice, immersive installation, video, photography, sculpture, painting and drawing.”
As part of a generation of artists who have reinvented the artistic gesture, Rose’s rich characters inhabit worlds that act interrelatedly while challenging the prevalent aesthetics and emergence of dominant cultural narratives of struggle and reconciliation that can be found in South Africa.
To this end, the show will also introduce 10 new commissions that are part of the artist’s Mandela Balls series and will include a programme of performative interventions throughout the duration of the exhibition.
The museum’s assistant curator Tandazani Dhlakama says: “Shooting Down Babylon will be Rose’s largest comprehensive retrospective to date. It is important to celebrate the work of Black women artists from the continent and to acknowledge the immense contributions they are making to contemporary art discourse. Through this exhibition, visitors will be able to gain in-depth insight into three decades of Rose’s practice. The themes in the exhibition, which stem from post-colonial entanglements, are relevant to our present times. Rose’s work highlights her critical vision and social commentary.”
In June, Zeitz MOCAA will host a two-day symposium on Rose’s work, which will mark the launch of an extensive monograph on the artist’s practice. The 400-page publication will include contributions from Adrienne Edwards, Kellie Jones, Gabi Ngcobo, Khwezi Gule, Simon Njami and others, and will expand on significant themes in Rose’s work such as absurdity, religion, spirituality, gender and sexuality, race and the body.
Shooting Down Babylon opens on February 18, 2022, on three levels of the museum’s exhibition space. Due to the graphic content, which some viewers may find disturbing, viewer discretion is advised and not recommended for persons younger than 16.