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blank projects: ANDREW GILBERT & CINGA SAMSON - 30 July 2015 to 29 Aug 2015

Current Exhibition

30 July 2015 to 29 Aug 2015

blank projects
113-115 Sir Lowry Road
Cape Town
South Africa
T: +27 21 462 4276
M: +27 72 1989 221

Andrew Gilbert, Shaka at work in his studio (2015)
Fineliner, acrylic and watercolour on paper, 63 x 48.5 cm

Artists in this exhibition: Andrew Gilbert, Cinga Samson


blank projects is pleased to present two solo exhibitions by Andrew Gilbert and Cinga Samson.

Andrew Gilbert (b1980, Edinburgh) has lived and worked in Berlin since 2002, prior to which he obtained his MA Fine Art from the University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh College of Art. Gilbert, who works predominantly in mixed media drawing and sculpture, has held numerous solo exhibitions and group shows across Europe and in Tokyo and New York. Solo exhibitions include Je suis . . . Broccoli! (Jagla, Cologne); Sacred Soil and Bloody Ground (Galerie Kai Erdmann, Hamburg) and The Glorious Return of Emperor Andrew (Summerhall, Edinburgh).
Following Trophies of the Savages – Idols of Civilization, his second exhibition at blank projects, Gilbert’s work will be included in Artist and Empire at Tate Britain, opening in November.

Cinga Samson (b1986, Cape Town) is a painter based in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. Samson has participated in several group shows, including In the night I remember curated by Kabelo Malatsie (Stevenson, Johannesburg); Our Fathers curated by Kirsty Cockerill and Chantal Louw (AVA Gallery, Cape Town) and Strata at Greatmore Studios, where he completed a residency in 2011. His first solo exhibition, Rusting Iron, was held at the AVA Gallery in Cape Town, 2011. Thirty Pieces of Silver will be Samson’s first exhibition at blank projects, and his largest solo show to date.

Borne out of very different contexts, the works of Gilbert and Samson intersect in multiple and surprising ways. Gilbert’s bright palette and faux-naive caricatures, usually associated with so-called primitivism and African art, contrast sharply with Samson’s cool and disciplined aesthetic. Both Gilbert and Samson are grappling with the fallout from the colonial project in South Africa, but while Gilbert has a no holds barred approach to his subject matter – evoking the savagery of colonial occupation with grotesquely violent imagery – the violence in Samson’s paintings is only subtly implicated through his appropriation of definitively European visual languages, and the Biblical references to corruption and betrayal that make up his titles.


In Thirty Pieces of Silver, Cinga Samson presents new works that address themes of masculinity, spirituality and race against the backdrop of Post-colonialism. Painting personal visions together with imagery culled and pieced together from art history books, his style more reminiscent of formal traditions of European art than it is of contemporary (South African) painting. Moving between Vanitas-like still lives – bouquets of flowers, peeled fruit and animal skulls – and depictions of groups of conspiratorial white men dressed in Victorian costume, the paintings are anachronistic and surreal; like visions or dreams, figures and objects emerge, strangely illuminated, from cold and murky interiors. Explaining his iconography, Samson states:

“When I create an artwork, I want the results to feel secret, almost holy and distant. I always picture the audience of my work standing in front of it, looking what I have put in front of them, whether it’s the image of flowers or figures…, unclear as to what it’s all about and also having a sense that what’s in the images is something from a different world that they don’t belong to, maybe from another time or perhaps somewhere, where no one goes. Being from a family of many male figures (having nine brothers) made it natural for me to use them as constant symbols in my work. The flowers are sensitive – almost contrary to man – and close to my heart, and I find them interesting as symbols and appealing in many different ways.”

Samson believes that, consciously or unconsciously, and without being directly political, his artworks engage with the frustrations of young black Africans and their sense of displacement within the nationalistic narrative of social cohesion. He is interested in their disillusionment with their institutions (religious, educational, etc) that appear to be maintaining the status quo by regulating and pacifying rather than furthering the radical development so longed for. Samson’s process includes gathering ideas from locals about their environment and their pervading sense of invasion from both ‘outsiders’ and visible remnants of the past. He is intrigued by the myths and conspiracy theories invented by the community to impose order on their world (this interest helps to fuel the sense of the fantastique in his art), paralleled by the basic human instincts that drive our existence, leading him to question whether we are above the natural laws of the animal kingdom that dictate the ‘survival of the fittest’, or if our social hierarchy is in fact governed by them to some degree.


Trophies of the Savages – Idols of Civilisation
Andrew Gilbert

In a recent interview with General Gordon of Khartoum, Andrew states “The Ulundi National Gallery exists in my mind. Ethnographic Museum and Military Museum combined – here is where my drawings are stored and protected together with idols and relics of my glorious Empire. Here the Europeans are put on display as deranged ritual obsessed savages – iPhones are carrots on string – a new reformation of North European Primitivism is required. The Holy Toast shall descend pierced by cheap ‘Africa Flavour’ incense sticks.”

Andrew Gilbert’s obsession with Colonial History began as a child after seeing the 1964 film ‘ZULU’. ‘ZULU’, starring Michael Caine and Chief Buthelezi as King Cetshwayo, is a classic British War film – a genre that most other nations do not have. It depicts the Battle of Rorke’s Drift (1879) and the defeat of 4000 Zulus by 140 British soldiers. The film represents the British obsession with glorious last stands against overwhelming odds, but fails to explain that the Zulus are in fact defending their land against a foreign invader. Neither the execution of wounded Zulus after the battle, nor the destruction of Ulundi on the 4th of July 1879 are depicted. The film was banned in South Africa in 1965 for black audiences.

As a child, Gilbert saw parallels with the Anglo-Zulu war and the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. At the Battle of Culloden the ‘savage’ Highland warriors, armed with cow-skin shields and primitive weapons, charged lines of disciplined British Redcoats and were slaughtered. After the battle the wounded were also shot and bayoneted.

On the 9th of July 2014, Andrew at last visited the Rorke’s Drift museum in the KwaZulu Natal province of South Africa. Here, he saw the sideburns had fallen off the British Soldier mannequins (by coincidence, after the battle of Isandlwana, Zulu Sangomas removed the jaw bones with sideburns of dead British soldiers). While the symbols of the British Empire slowly rot, Gilbert witnessed the new museums built to celebrate Zulu Imperial History at Ondini and uMgungundlovu.

For his first solo show in South Africa and second exhibition at blank projects, Gilbert will show drawings made during his stay in South Africa in 2014, and subsequently in Berlin. Presented together with sculpture and installation that reference the Colonial Exhibitions of the 19th century, these drawings combine Military History with the subject of Primitivism in Modern Art and European representations of the exotic. For example, in Shaka at work in his studio (2015), Shaka Zulu can be seen finishing his painting for the Basel Art Fair. Shaka is depicted working on a canvas based on a painting by the German Expressionist Emil Nolde. Nolde depicted the savage practice of cutting off heads in Polynesia (Still life with Masks, 1911) while, in German occupied Namibia, Herero heads were hacked off and sent to Berlin for scientific research. Gilbert questions the idea of European civilisation as, today, U.S airstrikes blow children to pieces in the name of civilisation and democracy.

In the drawing Fighting Mac on holiday in Cape Town (2014), Major General Hector Macdonald (veteran of the Sudan and Boer War) is shown in Highland regiment uniform. There is an obvious similarity between the Zulu war costumes and those of the Highland regiments. However, the romantic European image of the exotic warrior is parodied as the Major General carries a cheap plastic shopping bag – a symbol of contemporary European culture and an allusion to the fact that just as the Colonial invasions were fought for commerce and economics so are the Western invasions today. The Xhosa warriors were confronted by the exotic costumes of the Highland Regiments during the 8th Frontier War (1850 – 53), and they were called “Tortoise warriors” by the Xhosa because of the tribal tartan patterns. As the British went in to battle in bright red ceremonial uniform, the Xhosa went to war covered in red clay.

While the Zulu War is immortalised in Britain because of the 1964 film, the nine Xhosa Frontier Wars remain mostly forgotten. As European military museums fade under budget cuts and lack of interest and the old monuments to the European version of history fall, the Ulundi National Gallery shall rise as the carrot rises from sacred instant coffee. The Liberators become Occupiers and European War Memorials become the Idols of Savages.

The Holy Brocoli, official biographer of Emperor Andrew 7.7.15

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