Sandra Mujinga

Oslo Kunstforening, Oslo, Norway

Sandra Mujinga’s show ‘Real Friends’ opens with the video installation Throwing Voice (all works 2016): a projection of the artist in a futuristic grey suit against a green screen, pacing, life-size, her face digitally altered by filters. Her movements are self-conscious yet powerful; she poses, turns, seems to be watching the viewer, as if on standby or testing her abilities, avatar-like: a wise sim. The projection passes through a group of clear polycarbonate sheets, each cinched with wire to create loose cylinders approximately the size of an adult human. These sculptures cause the green light to refract in shafts throughout the space. Completed by a soundtrack of chopped-up beauty tutorials, in which women explain how to create facial definition through make up, the installation exemplifies Octavia Butler’s formulation, in her 1980s trilogy of novels, ‘Xenogenesis’ (aka ‘Lilith’s Brood’),of the human-non-human hybrid.


Sandra Mujinga, Throwing Voice, 2016, video installation

Sandra Mujinga, Throwing Voice, 2016, video installation, Oslo Kunstforening. Courtesy: Oslo Kunstforening; photograph: Christina Leithe Hansen

This idea is explored throughout the exhibition. In the video He Who Was Shared, Mujinga’s hand-held camera follows a ranger using a machete to make his way through the dense green foliage of Virunga National Park, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). An electronic soundtrack samples cicadas and birds with a low, repetitive synthetic-drum that comes to dramatic climax as the man opens a clearing to reveal a gorilla. By matching the forest leaves and green-screen hues, Mujinga confuses the positions of what is real and what is constructed, invoking the instability in the categories of human, nature and technology.


Sandra Mujinga, He Who Was Shared, 2016, video installation, Oslo Kunstforening

Sandra Mujinga, He Who Was Shared, 2016, video installation, Oslo Kunstforening. Courtesy: Oslo Kunstforening; photograph: Christina Leithe Hansen

Elsewhere, in ILYNL (It’s Like You Never Left), the figure from Throwing Voice is multiplied and overlaid with fragments of mobile-phone footage and images from Snapchat. These create a plane of constant movement, without centre or certain location: cars, airports, continents, languages, weddings, swimming pools, dance clubs, empty streets, social media, emojis. Rather than flattening out experience, however, these changing landscapes expose differences – notably between the contexts of Africa and Europe – that technology cannot overwrite. In one grainy shot the artist speaks directly into her camera phone: ‘It’s not even ten past two and Malmö is completely empty.’ The next, taken from the window of a car as it drives through the African countryside, is subtitled ‘Rwanda thooo ...’ Specificity is what is at stake in this new digital geography, which may collapse different times and places but never quite escapes the conditions of its production. 


Sandra Mujinga, Humans, On the Other Hand, Lied Easily and Often (1-3) (detail), 2016

Sandra Mujinga, Humans, On the Other Hand, Lied Easily and Often (1-3) (detail), 2016, colour inkjet print

In the gallery’s final room, Mujinga directly references a line from the first ‘Xenogenesis’ book, Dawn (1987), in the title of a series of colour inkjet diptychs: Humans, On the Other Hand, Lied Easily and Often (1–3). Featuring close-up ‘portraits’ of the Virunga gorilla, these large photographs have intentionally been framed in highly reflective glass. Having emphasized the constructed and complex nature of images through her multifaceted video installations, Mujinga concludes ‘Real Friends’ with what are effectively documentary-style still photographs.

Blinded by the brightness of this fully lit gallery, it’s easy to forget the preceding rooms’ darkness and density. Is this photogenic gorilla supposed to be representative of a real, authentic self, an entity that is unconstructed? Mujinga is too clever for that. After all, this is the species at once protected by humans and from them, and the Virunga rangers risk their lives to protect gorillas against the threat from rebels and poachers. While in the DRC gorillas are arguably safer and better protected than many humans, in the USA the killing of the gorilla Harambe by a zookeeper in May was seen concurrently as a tragedy and necessity for human survival. Harambe now lives on in infamy as a meme. In ‘Xenogenesis’, despite repulsion and fear, the protagonist, Lilith, is one of the few humans to accept her new role as appointed teacher and creator of future hybrid ‘constructs’, as the route to
her own survival.

Main image: Sandra Mujinga, Throwing Voice (detail), 2016, video installation, Oslo Kunstforening. Courtesy: Oslo Kunstforening; photograph: Christina Leithe Hansen

is a freelance writer and curator living in Melbourne, Australia.

Issue 184

First published in Issue 184

Jan - Feb 2017

Most Read

Ignoring its faux-dissident title, this year's edition at the New Museum displays a repertoire that is folky, angry,...
An insight into royal aesthetics's double nature: Charles I’s tastes and habits emerge as never before at London’s...
In other news: Artforum responds to #NotSurprised call for boycott of the magazine; Maria Balshaw apologizes for...
At transmediale in Berlin, contesting exclusionary language from the alt-right to offshore finance
From Shanghai to Dubai, a new history charts the frontiers where underground scenes battle big business for electronic...
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, UK
Zihan Karim, Various Way of Departure, 2017, video still. Courtesy: Samdani Art Foundation
Can an alternative arts network, unmediated by the West's commercial capitals and burgeoning arts economies of China...
‘That moment, that smile’: collaborators of the filmmaker pay tribute to a force in California's film and music scenes...
In further news: We Are Not Surprised collective calls for boycott of Artforum, accuses it of 'empty politics'; Frida...
We Are Not Surprised group calls for the magazine to remove Knight Landesman as co-owner and withdraw move to dismiss...
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film is both gorgeous and troubling in equal measure
With Zona Maco opening in the city today, a guide to the best exhibitions across the Mexican capital
The question at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery’s artwork removal: what are the risks when cultural programming...
In further news: Sonia Boyce explains removal of Manchester Art Gallery’s nude nymphs; Creative Scotland responds to...
Ahead of the India Art Fair running this weekend in the capital, a guide to the best shows to see around town
The gallery argues that the funding body is no longer supportive of institutions that maintain a principled refusal of...
The Dutch museum’s decision to remove a bust of its namesake is part of a wider reconsideration of colonial histories,...
At New York’s Metrograph, a diverse film programme addresses a ‘central problem’ of feminist filmmaking
Ronald Jones pays tribute to a rare critic, art historian, teacher and friend who coined the term Post-Minimalism
In further news: curators rally behind Laura Raicovich; Glasgow's Transmission Gallery responds to loss of Creative...
Nottingham Contemporary, UK
‘An artist in a proud and profound sense, whether he liked it or not’ – a tribute by Michael Bracewell
Ahead of a show at Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum, how the documentarian’s wandering gaze takes in China’s landscapes of...
In further news: Stedelijk explains why it cancelled Ettore Sottsass retrospective; US National Gallery of Art cancels...
With 11 of her works on show at the Musée d'Orsay, one of the most underrated artists in modern European history is...
Reopening after a two-year hiatus, London’s brutalist landmark is more than a match for the photographer’s blockbuster...
What the Google Arts & Culture app tells us about our selfie obsession
At a time of #metoo fearlessness, a collection of female critics interrogate their own fandom for music’s most...
A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

October 2017

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018