Painter Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi Captures the Moments Just Before Legendary Black Gymnasts Perform Daring Routines—See Images Here

Take a sneak peek at a gallery that has just reopened to the public.

Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi, Champion (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg.
Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi, Champion (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg.

As galleries around the world begin to slowly reopen, we are focusing on exhibitions at spaces that are now receiving public visitors. Check out this show at a newly reopened gallery below.

Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi: Gymnasium
Through June 27 at Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg

 

What the gallery says: “The paintings in Gymnasium range from fluidly composed figurations of gymnasts and judges to unoccupied spaces verging on architectural abstraction. Nkosi’s figures are decidedly not painted in peak moments of athleticism. Rather, the artist depicts the moments preceding and following the execution of a move, or the aftermath of failure, in a foregrounding of the subtleties of performance that often escape public notice. Clusters of spectators make their first appearance in the series, and the tension of their participation is rendered through suggestive mark-making instead of detailed micro-portraits. Shifting focus away from the fact of success or defeat, Gymnasium spotlights the humanity engaged and set aside in the shift from human to performer, youth to laborer, person to demigod, and the reverse.”

Why it’s worth a look: When South African-American artist Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi first started to research the history of gymnastics, she discovered its fraught past: in just one example, Danish gymnast Niels Bukh traveled to South Africa in the 1930s to promote the sport as means to improve the health of the Aryan race. For Nkosi, this disturbing history was especially jarring at a time when black gymnasts like Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas were dominating the sport in America—while the artist herself was being thrust into the spotlight in a competitive field of her own.

In her first solo exhibition at Stevenson in Johannesburg, Nkosi stays focused on the subject that brought her acclaim in the art world, but widens the aperture a bit. Rather than focus on peak moments of accomplishment, the painter examines the moments before the big win (or loss)—and brings the audience and the spaces they inhabit into the frame as well.

A new video juxtaposes clips of young black and brown athletes of different eras in the moments just before they begin their routines; eyes trained ahead, arms and legs itching with anticipation, silently preparing for their turn on stage. The work, titled Suspension, set to a dramatic score, is the source material for the paintings, which capture each girl suspended in time.

The show as a whole examines the relationship between the group and the individual, the self and the collective (whether that’s the team or the audience). The artist herself writes, “While the sport’s establishment, the media and most spectators fixate on the individual star, isolated and exalted, the gymnasts themselves understand the necessity of the team, which is the foundation on which all ‘individual’ performances rest, and without which even the most talented gymnast could not succeed. Whether in practice sessions or on the peripheries of competition, these athletes exist—even when alone—as part of an implied network of reciprocal relationships.”

What it looks like:

Installation view, "Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi: Gymnasium" at Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg.

Installation view, “Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi: Gymnasium” at Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg.

Installation view, "Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi: Gymnasium" at Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg.

Installation view, “Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi: Gymnasium” at Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg.

Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi, <i>Team</i> (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg.

Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi, Team (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg.

Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi, <i>Spring Floor IV</i> (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg.

Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi, Spring Floor IV (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg.

Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi, Trial (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg.

Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi, Spring Floor V (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg.

Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi, <i>Audience</i> (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg.

Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi, Audience (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg.

Installation view, "Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi: Gymnasium" at Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg.

Installation view, “Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi: Gymnasium” at Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg.

Installation view, "Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi: Gymnasium" at Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg.

Installation view, “Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi: Gymnasium” at Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg.

Still from Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi’s Suspension (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Stevenson, Johannesburg.

Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi, <i>Champion</i> (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg.

Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi, Champion (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg.

Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi, Spring Floor VI (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg.


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