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In Conversation at the Kunstverein in Hamburg

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Tobias Peper, curator of Lerato Shadi’s Hamburger show at the Kunstverein, is sitting down with the artist for a conversation. Where they discuss topics of her artistic practice and her South African origin.
The title of the exhibition, BATHO BA ME, is a Setswana commonplace specifically used as an appeal in political speeches that can be translated as “my people.” The installation providing the presentation’s title shows the text “We the people” in black font on a red background. This expression is found in preambles of constitutions around the world. With two neon elements, Shadi sharpens these words into a question targeted directly at the viewer: “Are we the people?” For whom is the “we” claimed here actually a reality and how is this “we” defined? Shadi is referencing an essential discrepancy between inclusion and exclusion that always arises when communities are formed.
Four oversized photographs of raised fists are taking center place. The most well-known gesture may be the fist with the thumb over closed fingers. Among other things, it is a symbol for the international union Industrial Workers of the World, the women’s rights movements, and the Black Power movement as well as some right-wing extremist groups. The position of the thumb as well as the variety of associated levels of meaning is different in each photograph. The work’s title, I KNOW WHAT A CLOSED FIST MEANS, contradicts the sheer endless possibilities for interpreting the individually raised fists. It is hardly possible to claim to know precisely what a closed fist means. Shadi makes it clear that knowledge and experience are always connected to one’s own perspective and cannot be easily generalized.

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