The Kunstmuseum Bern is presenting the most extensive retrospective so far of the work of Tracey Rose. The South African artist has been a radical voice in international art since the mid-1990s. Her works are centred on the power of performance and the body as a place of resistance, healing and discourse.
Tracey Rose, The Prelude: La Marcha de la Aparicion, 2003, Pigment inks on cotton rag paper, 73 x 49 cm, Courtesy of the artist
With about a hundred works, the Kunstmuseum Bern is showing the most extensive retrospective so far of the work of the South African performance and multimedia artist Tracey Rose (b. 1974). In her works she engages with themes such as post-colonialism, gender, sexuality, racism and Apartheid. At their centre are the power of performance art and the body, which Tracey Rose sees as a place of protest, rage, resistance and discourse, but also of healing. The artist realises her sensational performative practice in various media such as video, sculpture, photography, installation and drawing, in particular casting light and critically commenting on central experiences in the transition to a post-colonial world.
Her thematic focus, however, extends far beyond the reality of South Africa, and refers generally to experiences of racist, political or sexist discrimination.Her most recent works centre on the question of the healing of traumatic experiences, whether personal or communal in nature.
The exhibition in the Kunstmuseum Bern follows Rose’s artistic development from her early interest in questions of identity to the aesthetics of violence and an interest in healing processes and rituals. It shows works from the years between 1990 and 2021, including the work T.K.O. (Technical Knock-Out) (2000) from the collection of the Kunstmuseum Bern, in which the artist has been represented since 2001.
‘The exhibition avoids a chronological or thematic reading in favour of an arrangement as an open landscape, in which the individual elements communicate with one another synchronically and diagonally. At the same time, the fundamental themes in Tracey Rose’s work, such as protest, satire, anti-monuments, utopia and a preoccupation with spirituality, recur.’ Kathleen Bühler, curator of the exhibition
Tracey Rose, The Kiss, 2001, Black & White Lambda print, 124,5 x 127 cm, Courtesy of the artist
Rethinking the world
Tracey Rose laments, denounces, distorts and attacks. She reinterprets accepted patterns of thought and traditions, she questions repeatedly asserted cultural, sexual or ethical identities and thus opens up a space for discussions. Her works produce cracks in the surface, and the artist goes so far as to rethink even mythical and religious origin narratives in an absurd, anarchic and carnivalesque way.
One example of this is the group of works Lucie’s Fur, in which the artist sketches a different version of the Creation history. She shows us Adam and Eve as a queer couple, or the expulsion from Paradise as a slightly disoriented ride by a hybrid figure through a Canary-Island Garden of Eden. With this daring and amusing new emphasis, Rose opens the Pandora’s box of questions: what would happen if things had happened according to her form of representation, and we had developed our cultural theories and histories of civilisation on that basis?
Ten new works have been commissioned for the present exhibition; they are part of the continuin Mandela Balls series. In 1994, Nelson Mandela, freed after years of imprisonment, was the first South African President to be democratically elected. Rose’s work accompanies the political and social systemic change to a ‘Rainbow Nation’ and proves to be revolutionary even today in the sense of an analytic vision, an attitude of resistance and a voice of protest. Basing her work on the poem A Dream Deferred by Langston Hughes, the artist builds a total of 95 monuments to the freedom fighter – one for each year of his life. With these fragile and sometimes comical objects she explores the legacy left by his hopeful beginning.
Shooting Down Babylon
The title of the exhibition, Shooting Down Babylon, is taken from the installation of the same name, made in 2016 as a reaction to Donald Trump’s election victory. For this work, Rose subjected herself to cleansing rituals which she filmed and reproduced in a physically insistent video sculpture. As a prelude to the exhibition, this work clearly demonstrates the extent to which Tracey Rose’s work is rooted in the physical, in rage and in the search for spirituality.
Beyond the exhibition, the Kunstmuseum Bern seeks to reflect on issues of discrimination and to learn more about it along with its visitors. The Bern collective café revolution will introduce new ways of looking and background experiences in the context of different events in the accompanying programme.
Tracey Rose, Lucie’s Fur Version 1:1:1 –The Messenger, 2003, Lambda print, 80 x 60 cm, Courtesy of the artist
Tracey Rose, A Dream Deferred (Mandela Balls), 13/95 IMBOKODO:Kathy’s Rainbow, 2021, Mixed media, 85 x 90 x 120 cm, Courtesy of the artist
Tracey Rose Shooting Down Babylon
Thursday, 22 February 2024, from 6 pm.
(Hodlerstrasse 8–12, 3011 Bern )