The New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA) is pleased to host Ballon Rouge, Brussels for Nokukhanya Langa's first solo exhibition in the United States, and the second exhibition at NADA's new, year-round project space, located in Chinatown's East Broadway Mall.
The exhibition can be viewed daily, 9am–7pm through a glass storefront, beginning Friday, October 22nd. Appointments can be made on weekdays with advance notice by emailing email@example.com.
October 22 – December 5, 2021
Presented by Ballon Rouge Collective, Brussels
75 East Broadway, #221
New York, NY 10002
In March of 2021 we had our first solo exhibition with Nokukhanya Langa at our space in Brussels; It was titled Baby, I’m not even here. I’m a hallucination. Presented here at NADA’s project space is a kind of synopsis and continuation of that exhibition.
Nokukhanya’s practice is defined by her distinct and subversive visual language. She is neither of a school of pure abstraction, nor are her works plainly narrative or figurative. Instead, her works exist in the same space as do vernacular idioms. They are fugitives to direct meaning and intuitively insinuate. They layer private histories, political and cultural undertones, allegories, seditious narratives, and humor—ultimately revealing themselves; there seems to be an air of dissimilation—things are not totally straightforward. There are hidden meanings and tongue-in-cheek political expressions that are proclaimed as casually and softly as everyday idioms, while remaining rife with meaning and intent.
Nokukhanya nods to pop culture; seen in the title of the exhibition (taken from a viral tik tok video), in visuals from Busta Rhymes’ “Gimme Some More” music video, as well as in the use of the girl from Morton’s Salt logo. These choices create a body of work that is meant to be decoded, that appears one way and then suddenly morphs. This is a sort of signature to Nokukhanya’s works—the small moments of an underpainting revealing itself, or sometimes a blatant use of a recognizable thing or visual as a means to confound, and as a venue to question and search and story-tell. She never gives the viewer an easy answer.
In the smallest work in this show, titled A Pillar of Salt, (the work with the Morton’s Salt girl logo)—the fact that it is a young girl here is important and the fact that it is a consumerist image is also important. There is an innocence to the figure that is directly laid parallel to the dark gray and barbed wire background of the painting. The title of the work refers to the biblical story of Lot's wife who turns to salt after disobeying orders not to turn back and look at the burning city behind her. In this work, the figure does not look back—but the pair of green eyes at the bottom implies that looking. (These eyes being a motif throughout Noku's work). The blissful ignorance of the girl, unaffected by the rain above her head and the barbed wire around her and the implied burning city behind her can be seen as a stance on the kind of prison that is being a girl—expected to be happy, to listen, and to look down and away from the threatening things around you. With this, it is compounded with the idea of growing up with imagery like this happy-go-lucky white girl, as a Black girl—the danger in looking at and aspiring to such an image as this Morton's Salt logo. This logo being just one example of many dangerous consumerist and commonplace images that are projected as aspirational.
Nokukhanya also plays with the idea of what constitutes a painting materially, in the classic sense, by sometimes morphing the sides of the canvas, making the work look more like a piece from a natural rock wall. She also explores repetitive patterns, symbols, and letters—creating a kind of ‘tagging’ similar to those done in graffiti—all of which surmounts again to both a jest and gesture toward colloquial language and life. Nokukhanya does this all with a wide-eyed ironic smile, as in the pair of ogling eyes repeated in the work, and seen in this exhibition in the form of a wood-cut work.
The title of the show this past March, Baby, I’m not even here. I’m a hallucination suggests the idea of multiple realities—a proposition felt in the subversive abstraction of the works. It also suggests the idea of reality monitoring; in the exhibition eyes are disassociated from the body, sometimes stand-alone, sometimes embedded into a bodiless background of a painting that looks like a rock wall or a piece of side-walk. The eyes in this exhibition are ever-present; watching, looking—anonymous and anxious. Techniques of blurring are as commonplace as the presence of eyes in this body of work. With all of these motifs together, Nokukhanya deftly presents a self-referential as well as a timely and allegorical exhibition.
The exhibition is self-referential in that we see these disembodied eyes and their foggy, coiled vision making a hallucinatory reality in itself, representative of a kind of cognitive dissonance or a dissociation from one's personal reality. Meanwhile, the allegories come from a deeper reading of the embedded meanings seen through the lens of our current lives and world. Who is being looked at by whom, what conclusions are being drawn? What is reality? Whose reality are we living?
– Nicole O’Rourke, Director