Sharlene Khan, I Make Art, 2011–2020
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. Globalised contemporary art discourses dislocate and appropriate counterflows of decolonial criticism, piling up the ever same and the newly acknowledged in rehashed canonising 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, becomes a strained signifier of accumulated otherness in its repetitious shorthand indexing of Western art categorisations: 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
Sharlene Khan is a South African visual artist who works in multimedia installations and performances that focus on the socio-political realities of a post-apartheid society and the intersectionality of race–gender–class. She uses masquerading as a postcolonial strategy to interrogate her South African heritage, as well as the constructedness of identity via rote education, art discourses, historical narratives and popular culture. She has exhibited in the UK, Italy, France, Germany, South Africa, India, South Korea and Greece. Her writings have appeared in journals, books and art catalogues, including Art South Africa, Artthrob, Springerin, Manifesta, Contemporary-And, The Conversation Africa, Imbizo: International Journal of African Literary and African Studies, Agenda and The Palgrave Handbook of Race and the Arts in Education. She has published three books on her work: What I look like, What I feel like (2009), I Make Art (2017) and When the moon waxes red... Negotiating Subjective Terrain as an 'Inside-Outsider', an 'Outside-Insider' (2019). She is co-convenor of the annual African Feminisms (Afems) Conference, and runs the Art on our Mind Research Project; the Black Feminist Killjoy Reading Group and the Decolonial AestheSis Creative Lab. She holds a PhD from Goldsmiths, University of London, and is currently Associate Professor at the Department of Fine Arts, Wits University, Johannesburg.