Clay animation sketch by Dineo Seshee Bopape
Clay animation sketch by Dineo Seshee Bopape. (Image courtesy of the artist)

ICA at VCU to present first solo exhibition of South African artist Dineo Seshee Bopape

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The Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University presents the first solo U.S. museum exhibition by South African artist Dineo Seshee Bopape, comprised entirely of new, site-responsive commissions.

“Dineo Seshee Bopape: Ile aye, moya, là, ndokh ... harmonic conversations … mm” kicks off Friday, Sept. 24, with an opening celebration from 6 to 10 p.m. The free event will feature music with DJ Graybeard and Michael Demps; remarks by Fotis Sotiropoulos, Ph.D., VCU provost and senior vice president for academic affairs; an incantation from Bayo Akomolafe, Ph.D.; and a conversation between Amber Esseiva, who curated the ICA exhibition, and Bopape. 

The show’s title refers to the elements: earth (ile aye), wind (moya), fire (là) and water (ndokh) in various African languages. Focusing on sites that were involved in the transatlantic slave trade, Bopape’s exhibition connects four places chosen for their locations as former slave routes or ports of slavery-related commerce: Richmond, New Orleans, Senegal and Ghana. Merging the artist’s interests in soil and architecture, the exhibition mines the natural and built environments in all four sites to explore the legacies of pain, spiritualism, resistance and rebellion held within each.

Celebrated for her research-intensive explorations of place, history and spirituality, Bopape — who co-represented South Africa at the 2019 Venice Biennale and has won the Future Generation Art Prize and the Sharjah Biennial Prize, among other accolades — often roots her work in the material and metaphysical qualities of earthly elements like soil, clay and dust. She continues this practice in “Ile aye, moya, là, ndokh ... harmonic conversations … mm,” gathering clay and soil samples from the four sites and incorporating them into each of her new works. Harnessing raw material and video footage from each place, Bopape explores their parallel histories and the interconnectedness of land, water and body as sites of both trauma and commemoration. 

As part of the exhibition, the ICA and Bopape are partnering with the Menokin Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the historic Virginia home of Francis Lightfoot Lee, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and sharing the stories of the site’s inhabitants, including those who were enslaved there. Descendants of enslaved laborers at Menokin are creating small sculptures from clay sourced from the property, which Bopape will arrange into a larger installation at the ICA. 

“Dineo Seshee Bopape: Ile aye, moya, là, ndokh ... harmonic conversations … mm” runs through Dec. 8.