Mame-Diarra Niang’s ‘Same Guent Guii’: “Forgetting is also a starting point”

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Lindi Mngxitama reflects on ‘the blur’ as a tool for forgetting and remaking in Niang’s latest exhibition ‘Same Guent Guii’

This series feels like the abstract idea that I have of myself, the acceptance that forgetting is also a starting point and a fleeting, necessary memory,” shares photographer Mame-Diarra Niang, speaking about her exhibition Same Guent Guii, showing at STEVENSON gallery in Johannesburg until this Sunday 20 November 2022.

Printed on iridescent metallic paper with the works curatorially — and rhizomatically — placed across the gallery floors and walls, the images in this body of work recede and refract to create a tableau of abstracted ‘non-portraits’, alluding to a subconscious realm. Through the works and with the exhibition, Niang visually and affectively explores how “unknowing is formative in becoming”. The exhibition meditates on Niang’s corporality and embodied self as possessive of intricacy and infinitude, offering the blur as the visual vocabulary and vernacular of forgetting; of the starting point from which to begin, construct and imagine again.

Morphologie du rêve #7. 2021 © Mame-Diarra Niang.

Interlude in Can I Hold the Mic by Solange Knowles: “I can’t be a singular expression of myself, there are too many parts, too many spaces, too many manifestations, too many lines, too many curves, too many troubles, too many journeys, too many mountains, too many rivers, so many.”

I think about how presence has a presence — we are all radioactive with H/history, it spills out of our pores leaking everywhere. I think about how it speaks in echoes and choruses that say something about who we are, how we have been made and our relationship to/with the world. I also think about a set of questions —offered as a gesture — by writer Nkgopoleng Moloi in her piece titled Black portraiture and the gaze: ‘Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt’, (2021), meditating on an exhibition of the same name, curated by Anelisa Mangcu and Jana Terblanche.

Moloi asks, “Is it possible to read the work of Black artists away from the shackles of historical and political entanglement? And is it possible for Black artists and Black subjects to create fully in the spirit of absolute freedom?” This ultimately leads me to think about Blackness as art and about the hyper-prevalence and visibility of Black figuration(s) across global and localised art ecologies and markets — from the works of Kerry James Marshall (USA) to Zandile Tshabalala (SA), and Ruth Ige (Nigeria), whose exhibition Freedom’s recurring dream, preceded Niang’s Sama Guent Guii at STEVENSON Johannesburg, to name just a few — and also about how such presence can be coopted and commodified. 

Morphologie du songe #23. 2021 © Mame-Diarra Niang.

In an interview with Folasade Ologundudu for Artnet art historian Darby English speaking about abstraction in relation to the “New Black Renaissance” says: “You can’t get to the reality of abstract art without engaging the discourse of abstract art, which, ironically, is the most discursive art of the modern era. And you can’t get to the reality of a Black artist doing abstraction without dealing with the abstractness of Blackness as a matrix of identifications and projections, equally real and unreal.”

If we think of the body as territory, Niang’s blur — as previously explored in her series Call Me When You Get There and Léthe — and as extended within the body of work that constitutes Sama Guent Guii, provides a modality and vocabulary of abstraction; of fabulating a material site and conceptual sight of forgetting to begin again. The exhibition figures as a multiverse of photographed Black bodies(?) Fretted and erupting, dissolving and disappearing into kaleidoscopic colours to (re)create themselves in spaces that dance beyond the borders and bondages of Black enfleshment thus complicating the very constructions and conditions of Blackness.

Morphologie du songe #2. 2021 © Mame-Diarra Niang.

This provocation becomes more pronounced when one reads Sama Guent Guii in relation to the many — racial, national and cultural — parts that make up Mame-Diarra Niang as she shares in a poem written for the exhibition that reads:

I am the past which reappears

I am what is transformed by their memories and my memories

I am these black bodies that I do not recognize

I am this blur

I am made of memory and oblivion

I am this monument of nature, this being that is continually being reborn

This other, who sees themselves as the other.

With this body of work, Niang uses ethereality and abstraction via the blur, as an affirmation of her refusal to portray Blackness as we have come to know and think of it, like Binyavanga Wainaina’s Plastic Man in One Day I Will Write About This Place, who has, “Detached his body from those restraints. He is teasing time and space. His body is a needle, ducking headfirst into the stiff fabric of the world we know… Now he scrambles history with his bod, makes it all a game for the body to enjoy; he is more flexible than physics. He is a plastic man, and he cannot fail.”

Mame-Diarra Niang’s Sama Guent Guii is on show at STEVENSON gallery, Johannesburg, until 19 November 2022.