South African artists given space to flourish in Paris
The Bonne Espérance Gallery exhibits established and emerging artists from SA and neighbouring countries in the centre of Paris. Mo Laudi, a celebrated multidisciplinary artist from Polokwane, is curating their latest exhibition, Salon Globalisto.
As much as it is an exhibition giving a new voice and a new platform to polymorphous SA artists, it is also a movement, a physical manifestation of Mo Laudi’s Globalisto ideology and a dive into SA history.
Salon Globalisto creates a community of Africans away from home, a space for blackness, for art, for revolutionary thought and a platform for the voiceless.
Historical icons such as photographer George Hallett and musician and painter Gerard Sekoto are elevated to the respect and popularity that they deserved in their lifetimes. Questions relating to race, postapartheid transnationalism, diaspora and society are explored by the accumulated community of artists, all accomplished in their own right but painting a new narrative as a group.
Salon Globalisto is an invitation into a close-knit community of fifteen artists, where paintings, sculptures, soundscapes, photography and more discover the intimacy of identity, society and being African in a Western world.
Mbali Dhlamini, Kendell Geers, George Hallett, Rodan Kane Hart, Porky Hefer, Thonton Kabeya, Khehla Chepape Makgato, Chris Saunders, Sekoto, Penny Siopis, Claudia Tennant, Sammy Valhalla, Nontsikelelo Veleko and Lulama Wolf contribute to Salon Globalisto.
Mo Laudi’s sound installations are what he refers to as “the journey of African music”. Transforming sets, beats and genres are interspersed with the examination of history and power. Sound layering and experimentation allows the depth of his work to be uncovered as the sets play on — the sensory dimension is as much in focus as the context.
The multidisciplinary and multilayered nature of his work is reflected in his curation, an exhibition giving voice to the underappreciated, giving a space to a community and displaying SA work that is to be cherished as much as it challenges.
Thonton Kabeya La rumba.Image: Supplied
“There is a collective creative African diaspora energy brewing. For many years this community has been marginalised, with a lack of opportunities but many of these fantastic colleagues are entrepreneurial and create their own opportunities where the opportunities do not exist,” said Mo Laudi.
“It’s beautiful to organise events and know you have a core support base. When I need models for a fashion shoot, for instance, I can just send a text message since someone will know someone. More and more I feel there is a general interest in Africa from Parisians too. You can feel it in the air, in fashion and music. Now even old-school kwaito is trending in Paris,” he said.
The exhibition is at 3 Rue Notre Dame de Bonne Nouvelle, 75002, Paris until July 31.
The journey to Salon Globalisto
“Music was weaponized when I grew up in SA during the apartheid days; we used music to fight the police,” Mo Laudi told Flaunt magazine. This revolutionary, anti-authoritarian stance still guides the “natural activist”.
The nature of music often transcends political rhetoric, but Mo Laudi ensures that the context of change remains, whether in his genre-fusing beats, art or curation; the sociopolitical nature is apparent yet not forced.
The acclaimed DJ and African-electronic pioneer is passionate about community, African identity, African music and African empowerment.
He won a Gerard Sekoto-focused competition when he was 12. The prize was to create a mural on a 3m long wall. Apartheid had just ended and there were still sculptures of racist leaders in the same vicinity. The societal importance and depth was not lost on the budding artist and he painted a street scene by Sekoto; conversing with the space and challenging the status quo.
Mo Laudi was deeply affected by the huge responsibility granted to him as a youth and by how he did not have the words or rhetoric to express his feelings of identity and position in society.
Inspired by Sekotho’s impressionism, the ordinary subjects painted to breathe life into and critique the SA context, Mo Laudi was made to think about his identity, and communication; visually and sonically in his language.
His victory in the competition challenged him more than the contest and he started to rap in Sesotho and Sepedi as a means to express himself. There was a narrative shift and over the years he keeps going back to the toyi-toyis and political slogans of his childhood, experiences embedded within him.
Moving to London, Mo Laudi realised there was no space for SA or African music. He fought for space and recognition, but found many weren’t receptive to such new sounds.
As the first South African to play a weekly residency in London, playing local genres of house and kwaito, he opened space for DJs from SA. People evolved and changed towards the sound.
He credits the internet, a place of radical hospitality, essential for the creation of community in a geographically distanced diaspora. The sounds and amalgamation of African vernacular, historical connotations, music and community forged the idea of Globalisto, the African reimagining of a borderless world.
“I’m a pan-Africanist; I want my creations to offer an alternative narrative on life in contemporary Africa. The philosophy of Globalisto is reimagining a borderless world from a non-occidental point of view,” he says.
The drawings of Sekoto were initially the aim of the Salon Globalisto exhibition but then his songs and recordings in clubs spoke to the now Parisian-based Mo Laudi. Sekoto struggled as an exile in Paris, he was forced to move a lot and he paid for essentials, such as paint, through music. It was tough to get his work out; Mo Laudi contacted many collectors and eventually got on CD, which came without a cover, for the Gerard Sekoto Foundation. It was a compilation of reinterpretations rather than an original recording.
The search continued and when he eventually accessed the 1959 recording of Negro Spirituals, the quality of Sekoto’s voice and the content blew him way. Sekoto sang in clubs and bars; happy songs with tones of change; David and Goliath, a challenge to the status quo and gatekeepers, a song about the walls of Jericho falling down, fighting oppression through expression with the historical context of race, identity and colonialism.
The recordings brought tears to Mo Laudi’s eyes. All his struggles and conflict DJing with African music and losing the message of the music — sounding too happy or too popular and having the tone of change being missed — were there in Sekoto’s music. The social consciousness and talent of Sekoto blew Mo Laudi away and how he used it to fight and change society. Mo Laudi wanted to gain that voice, to have a physical, emotional and cultural manifestation of that revolutionary rhetoric and community consciousness — he wanted to put that music in a church.
The church has always represented a space for the community of acceptance, but Sekoto himself also resided in the adjacent church during a period between housing.
The juxtaposition of community and history, the contradiction of colonialism and religion and an exhibition of African art in a European area shows the careful consideration and context that Mo Laudi’s curation takes into account.
France has always been open to artists, however the inherent contradiction is that this acceptance is the treatment black artists receive compared with other black people. Mo Laudi recalls a story when he entered a club and was treated rudely, and how that experience and treatment changed when he spoke English.
The air of pomp arising from the conquering of Africa has created the idea of France being superior. Being a black artist, or speaking English, challenges that deeply rooted norm. Philosophy, art, community and race theory is shifting that focus, moving away from the centering of France to alternative narratives of “conquering” and belonging — what is taken for granted is now facing a reckoning.
The cherishing of Enlightenment ideals coupled with insecure right-wing posturing and fear is widespread. The position of Globalisto and post-coloniality critiques the status quo.
Mo Laudi has been battling with his and society’s treatment of Frenchness and says we should be frank about the true nature of identity. Can you be African and French, he asks. Can you have a duality of identity? The exhibition attempts to answer these questions and endorses the philosophy of Globalisto; using it to uplift the community, the diaspora and those struggling to find their own space.
Mo Laudi was invited to curate the exhibition at the Bonne Espérance Gallery by the founder Scott Billy. Due to the restrictions placed on performance and music by the pandemic, Mo Laudi had the creative space and freedom to truly immerse himself in creating something meaningful.
The gallery is the only sub-Saharan-focused one in Paris. He focused on voices that inspired him, the stories and people that have helped him grow since he was a child.
Mo Laudi embarked on a journey of influence and appropriation, challenging the narrative; trying to find voices, create a platform for these identities and philosophies and start a community. The exhibition slowly came together, telling the African story through different genres, perspectives and forms.