Donna Kukama
»The Swing (after after Fragonard)«, 2009
Video, colour, sound, 4:56 min.
Courtesy of Donna Kukama

Donna Kukama

Oktober 14 – November 17, 2011

Invited by Gabi Ngcobo (Independent Curator, Johannesburg)

»The Swing (after after Fragonard)« (2009)

Donna Kukama’s 2009 video »The Swing (after after Fragonard)«, as the title suggests is twice removed from its original source, the 1767 painting by Jean-Honore Fragonard, »The Swing« [Org.: Les heureux hasards de l’escarpolette]. It is once removed from the iconic sculptural response, »The Swing (after Fragonard)« by Yinka Shonibare, 2001. Fragonard’s painting became the emblem of the French aristocracy’s frivolity and questionable moral attitudes in the shadow of the impending French Revolution. Shonibare’s, on the other hand, deals with questions of authenticity, origin and power and a paralleling of first and third world lifestyles.

Kukama’s is a third generation response. Its genealogy, similar to Shonibare’s, is suggested by its title and yet, though separated by centuries, not too far removed from its reference; even though it passes through a filter very much informed by the context in which it was created as a site specific intervention.

Shot from above and edited in slow motion, the video features Kukama in a white dress gaily swinging in and out of the camera frame. On the ground, about seven meters below, a group of people gather in anticipatory flashes scrambling for the ten rand notes (equivalent to one Euro) the artist is letting go sporadically. When the swing reenters the frame without her body, an instant feeling of loss, hopelessness and dissatisfaction is reached.

The work is critical in a number of ways; it foregrounds the problematics of site specific public interventions and brings forth question of audiences, especially the distant realities between shipped audiences and ‘accidental’ audiences, who in this instance also become ‘chance’ participants. Within the context of its creation as part of an art tour with a signed up audience, driven from site to site, Kukama critics the spaces between the audiences by bringing into question their disparate lived experiences.

»What became interesting to me initially« states Kukama, »was the type of audiences that this kind of event would generate, and the distance that the majority of this audience generally had from the day-to-day realities of Johannesburg as a city. It was as if a spaceship of money would arrive in town, and it would only land at specified landmarks, to spill with no interaction whatsoever with the city's inhabitants.«

Kukama’s »Swing«, thus translates a (personal) lived experience in the inner city of Johannesburg. Both previous »Swings«, Fragonard’s and Shonibare’s, are products of art histories that, though worlds apart, also act as references in which women are represented by men. Kukama insets herself within these art histories strategically to question art’s powerlessness in changing the conditions of the world - which ultimately make obvious that questions of power (economic, political, sexual, etc) are a timeless subject. As Kukama observes:

»In our generation, there will always be the Gucci-clad, martini-sipping, sunglass-wearing 'art lovers' existing alongside extremes of reality, in the same way that there were in Fragonard’s time. There's no much difference between what is going on now and what happened those many many years ago.«

Text: Gabi Ngcobo in conversation with Donna Kukama.