The Showroom and The Otolith Collective will raise these questions in a curatorial format in the London iteration of Women on Aeroplanes – an international multi-part research and exhibition project, which loosely borrows its title from the novel by Ghanaian writer Kojo Laing, and its ethos from his implosive deconstructed syntax.
The project will include new work by artists Lungiswa Gqunta, Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum and Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa, and will observe the largely unrecognised role of women in struggles for liberation, their participation in transatlantic networks, and their key voices in revolutionary socio-political movements that helped to achieve post-colonial nation-states in Africa.
Lungiswa Gqunta will present a new series of drawings reflecting her research into the uses of sound and song as a mode of resistance to the often hidden structures of violence persisting as a result of systemic legacies of colonialism. Created as part of her residency at Gasworks (July – September 2018) they consider western musical score in relation to free Jazz, whilst meditating on the ways in which South African sound and song have been passed on through oral tradition in the contexts of protest and ritual. Accompanying these drawings, a sculptural installation conceived as a ‘garden of exile’ will reflect on the hardships endured by South Africans in exile. Together these works will evoke an experience of collective resistance and history-telling through song, amidst a subtly violent terrain.
Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum has been commissioned to create a full-scale mural inspired by the writer Bessie Head (1937-1986). Born of a wealthy white woman and a black domestic worker in South Africa, Head rejected the brutality of Apartheid by exiling herself to the village of Serowe in Botswana. Entitled Exalt B.H. Sunstrum’s mural will envelope the facade of The Showroom with a view of Serowe’s landscape dominated by an ever-present sky - a significant element in Bessie Head’s oeuvre. Weaving in and out of this expanse of blue will be Head’s words from Earth and Everything: ’I am building a stairway to the stars. I have the authority to take the whole of mankind up there with me. That is why I write.’
Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa will create an archive – a type of temporary repository for her research into the life of Amy Ashwood Garvey (1897-1969). As co-founder of the United Negro Improvement Association, Ashwood Garvey’s achievements were numerous and extraordinary, but she is little known or acknowledged within official historiographies of anti-colonialism, pan-Africanism and feminism – in all of which she played a significant role. Identifying and reflecting upon the many and varied mechanisms of Ashwood Garvey’s disappearance from public memory, Wolukau-Wanambwa will also present selected materials, photographs and accounts of her research experiences that are indicative of the predicament of Ashwood Garvey’s invisibility.
A series of inflight magazines, edited by the international curatorial team, travels along the route of the unfolding international project. Experimenting with the format, each issue becomes a light container for research-in-progress; at times a flying museum built upon each iteration of the project and connecting to the next. The issues continue to travel, wherever they are taken by participants and visitors. Issue two will be launched at The Showroom.
An events programme will run alongside the exhibition. Taking as a starting point female stories of resistance and their erasure from the histories of pan-Africanism, the programme will address three broad themes: the role of women in African independence movements; the development and sustainability of black herstory archives; and the activism of women of colour in the UK, past and present. The programme has been conceived by Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa and historian and ethnographer Dr. Nydia A. Swaby.