Mame-Diarra Niang, Morphologie du rêve #6. 2021 / Courtesy of the artist and Stevenson Cape Town, Johannesburg and Amsterdam
Mame-Diarra Niang: Self As A Forgotten Monument
Nov 16, 2023 – Jul 7, 2024
Zeitz MOCAA
Cape Town, South Africa

Self as a Forgotten Monument is the first museum solo exhibition by Mame-Diarra Niang presented by Zeitz MOCAA. Organised as a survey of the artist’s practice over the past decade, the project brings together significant bodies of work in dialogue in a spatial choreography. Niang’s prolific practice is characterised by an exploratory, abstract and subversive approach to lens-based media working across photography, moving image and immersive audio-visual installation.

The title of the exhibition is an invitation to embrace the artist’s notion of “Plasticity of the Territory”, a concept that is foundational to her practice and asserts an inner territory that names life as an experience in and of itself. In her own words, “I have come to think of the self as a territory made of well-curated memories and erasures [ . . . ] – a place where being itself is a forgotten monument; where even the most persistent conception of identity dissolves in front of us.” A monument in Niang’s world registers as a commemorative structure of remembrance, an offering to remind us of a never-ending metamorphosis of the self. Her work is an act of remembering and forgetting, through which she resists categorisation and assumptions about geographies and specificities. It is an inner space odyssey to build a self-portrait in constant mutation.

There are several prompts within the exhibition, where Niang challenges the viewer to see beyond the recognizable. The artist states, “I carve the land, I sculpt what is living, I decontextualize. Then, I reconstruct a territory with fragments of existing landscapes.” The exhibition presents a constellation of two key trilogies – bodies of work that are thematically related or stem from a particular period in her oeuvre. The first The Citadel features the series Sahel Gris (2013), At the Wall (2014) and Metropolis (2016) and the second Remember to Forget consists of the series: Call Me When You Get There (2020), Léthé (2021) and Sama Guent Guii (2021). These works are central to Niang’s journey as a self-taught artist whose inward-looking process of image-making actively challenges the conventions of documentary and portraiture photography.

This survey exhibition includes new iterations of Niang’s immersive room installations; they ground the artist’s sensibility and personal meaning-making embedded in her practice and are site-specific to Zeitz MOCAA, whilst retaining a lineage to the different spaces that the works have previously occupied. Since Time Is Distance in Space, a multiscreen filmic installation that envelops the viewer, also includes a nuanced musical score composed and recorded by Niang. Self As a Forgotten Monument forms part of an ongoing series of in-depth, research-based solo exhibitions by Zeitz MOCAA that bring into focus and contextualise the practices of important artists from Africa and its diaspora.

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