Whenever I visit an art exhibition that is installed in what seems like someone’s home, I feel slightly uncomfortable, like I’m trespassing where I don’t quite belong, even in the case of having been invited, as I was last Friday invited by Yitong Wang to see her current pop-up show in Soho. This is, by the way, why I don’t mind spending time in the dreaded white cube: There at least it always feels to me to be about the art, and not about decoration, or status signaling, or about my presence being tolerated at the whim of some robber baron.
So, I stepped into the rather splendid apartment that houses Tong Art Advisory on Mercer Street and into a show of artists from Zimbabwe and was greeted by a woman joyously humping a dog. Okay. I’m good with that. The painting I saw is Wycliffe Mundopa’s “No Apologies Pt 1” (2020). Mundopa, who lives and works in Harare, has long worked on depicting the lives of women and children in Harare’s underprivileged neighborhoods. The figuration here is rough, but not naïve. The colors are garish, giving the woman a yellow nose, one cheek mauve and the other pink, red lips, and a bluish-green neck, and one aqua arm. She is holding the dog around its torso and delightfully pushing her pelvis into its back. Every creature here is fierce, including the woman. Mundopa is telling me that he’s interested in transgression, in giving us images of women that insinuate that there is way more possible that women are capable of than our popular culture versions of them allow. In a way the transgression in his pieces (there is also the larger group portrait “In the Dark of the Day” ) make me relax a little. I imagine if the owner of the apartment were present, I could have conversation with whoever would gladly live with these images.
The other pieces that intrigue me are rather elegant lyrically abstract paintings of Helen Teede, who was born in Harare and makes her home there now, actively researches the land of Zimbabwe to inform her work. Her “Your Body is a Ship Part 1” (2021) gives me a feminine form carved out of the field that surrounds her by a sharp black line and a magenta interior. The whole canvas it shot through with cerulean tones and patches of white. But then the woman’s form emerges. She’s on hand and knees and her torso curves towards the floor supernaturally and her head is barely visible. But she emerges from the formal primordial soup through an act of the painter’s will. You can’t really stop women. You can suppress them for a time, but they always they will burst through, stitching themselves together from the raw materials at hand and then making their presence known and in that way flourishing.