Meleko Mokgosi resists conventional visualizations of race, gender, and social relations.
Mokgosi (b. 1981, Botswana) compels viewers to ask, “What if the world’s most celebrated museums were filled with historical images of black men and women? Would they be instantly interpreted as allegorical embodiments of love, intimacy, and strength instead of representations of ‘otherness?’”
Portraying people and historical moments from southern Africa, Mokgosi challenges the ways in which the depiction of dark-skinned figures and images of southern Africa are understood by viewers seeped in the worldviews and biases of European-American culture. Just as white European figures are understood as representations of religious devotion, motherhood, power, wealth, and love, rather than as “white,” the artist presents figures whose beautiful and precisely rendered attributes, emotional bearing, inter-relationships, and geographically specific contexts seek to transcend generalizing categories and marginalizing reactions.
“From a Eurocentric vantage point, black figures are almost always interpreted as an exception to the array of white-skinned figures who dominate not only artworks, but positions of historical, political, and economic privilege,” said Senior Curator of Contemporary Art Kristen Hileman. “A Euro-centric viewer’s reflection on a black subject in painting might encompass more than the idea of difference, but it can seldom escape entirely from this initial designation of ‘other.’”
For the exhibition, the artist has created a new suite of paintings informed by works in the BMA collection, including Sandro Botticelli’s Madonna Adoring the Child with Five Angels; Caterina van Hemessen’s Portrait of a Young Lady; and Edme-Alexis-Alfred Dehodencq’s Little Gypsy.
Mokgosi’s artwork has been exhibited nationally and internationally at venues including the Botswana National Gallery, The Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art Museum, The Studio Museum in Harlem, the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Culture Center, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and the Lyon Museum of Contemporary Art.
This exhibition is curated by BMA Senior Curator for Contemporary Art Kristen Hileman.