Third Text

Art Space

Sharlene Khan, I Make Contemporary Art (2011)

Sharlene Khan, I Make Art (2013)


All contemporary artworks function in a discursive margin-periphery framework validated and sustained by Western hegemonic practices, its colonial history and capitalist output and uptake, its sense of continuity. Globalized contemporary art discourses dislocate and appropriate counterflows of de-colonial criticism, piling up the ever same and the newly acknowledged in rehashed canonizing discourses. This layering opens up and calls into necessity interrogations of spaces of in-betweenness, calling into being the revenant. As an African woman artist of Indian descent, I make art not only within a specific situation where ‘history’ and ‘education’ has to be overhauled, but where works still only function in relation to a validatory discourse of art. Colonial mimicry – which Homi K Bhabha locates between the simultaneous success and failure of the mimetic gesture, its ‘almost-but-not-quite-ness’ – opens up oscillating spaces of in-between the closeness of mimesis and its slippage of ‘authenticity’.

I Make Art restages John Baldessari’s I am Making Art (1971) following his 1970 Class Assignments (Optional) to ‘Imitate Baldessari in Actions and Speech. Video’. Spoofing the ephemerality and spontaneity of this 1970s video artwork not only acknowledges its iconic status, but – like all works in the Western art canon – reiterates its hegemonic status against which later works are compared, contrasted, evaluated. Baldessari’s gestural playfulness, copied, repeated and appropriated by a South African woman artist, forty-one years later in a declarative visual statement of I Make Contemporary Art (2011), becomes a strained signifier of accumulated otherness in its repetitious shorthand indexing of Western art categorizations: I Make African Art, I Make Contemporary Arab Art, I Make Craft, I Make Feminist Art, I Make Performance Art, I Make Digital Art, I Make Protest Art, I Make Interdisciplinary Art, I Make Deconstructive Art.

*With thanks to Fouad Asfour


Born in Durban in 1977, Sharlene Khan is an artist, writer and curator who has exhibited widely in South Africa and internationally. For over a decade her work focused on street trade and the large informal economy in South African city centres. Although she is primarily a painter, Khan’s work incorporates a range of media that generate installations and performances, and has increasingly focused around the intersectionality of race, gender and class. She uses masquerading as a strategy to interrogate her South African Indian heritage as well as the constructedness of identity via rote education, art discourses, historical narratives and popular culture. Khan is a member of the Johannesburg-based artist collective the Dead Revolutionaries Club and a Commonwealth scholar on the Visual Arts doctoral programme at Goldsmiths, University of London.