Samson Kambalu’s ‘Ghost Dance’ features Nyau Cinema grounded in Malawian Chewa Gule Wamkulu ritual
Samson Kambalu’s ‘Ghost Dance’ features Nyau Cinema grounded in Malawian Chewa Gule Wamkulu ritual

Goodman Gallery Cape Town launches Samson Kambalu’s Ghost Dance on Saturday, 15 July 2017. This marks the artist’s first solo exhibition with the gallery. The Malawi-born multimedia artist will present a series of new short films dubbed Nyau Cinema, in which he explores concepts of time, ritual and values from a playful, non-Western perspective.

The exhibition comes at an exciting time in Kambalu’s career, having been recently appointed Associate Professor of Fine Art at Ruskin School of Art and elected fellow at Magdalen College, Oxford University.

Kambalu is one of four cutting-edge international artists to have recently joined the Goodman Gallery roster. As a Malawian artist based in the UK, Kambalu’s work is pertinent to Goodman Gallery’s mission to expand the global conversation in the arts and redirect the flow of discourse and meaning-making from the south up.

‘Ghost Dance’ exhibits 15 July – 12 August

This is the first solo exhibition in Cape Town by the London-based artist. His multi-media exhibition will be based around his psycho-geographical films airing the rituals and masquerades of Malawian Chewa culture – in particular, those made around the Mississippi River and inspired by the history, legends and folklore of the old American West. It will explore the relationship between the artist’s African heritage and aspects of American popular cultures – from spirituals, Vaudeville and medicine shows to jazz, early film and the blues.

Kambalu’s overall approach to filmmaking is influenced by short, silent and improvised cinema that he experienced growing up in Malawi in the 1980s. He grounds his cinematic practice in a Malawian Chewa Gule Wamkulu ritual, known as Nyau – a form of psychogeographical mask-making, which is defined by spontaneity, playfulness and a non-linear approach to time.

Samson Kambalu’s ‘Ghost Dance’ features Nyau Cinema grounded in Malawian Chewa Gule Wamkulu ritual
‘Extracting poetry out of nothing’

‘Situationist psychogeography’

Kambalu explains the seemingly random encounters recorded in his films as a way of ‘extracting poetry out of nothing – a continued exploration of how we might find meaning in what appears to be meaningless.’ Evoking the myths and histories of the ‘Wild West’ and taking the form of vignettes that last under a minute (as per Rule Number One), the films draw on American Western folklore, Situationist psychogeography, early film and primitive cinema, such as flipbooks and kinetoscopes.

Nyau cinema

The films will be projected onto the gallery walls from stacked Kinetescopic plinths, each engraved with different US postal codes to invoke unstable Western systems for dividing and allocating land. Speaking to the connection he wishes to draw between the seemingly rigid but easily collapsible plinths and the non-Western fluid approach to land that is taken in the films, the artist poetically states that ‘the plinths shake with the excess of history which bleeds from these improvised totems in the form of Nyau cinema’.

Kambalu has shown his work around the world, including the Dakar Biennale (2014, 2016), Tokyo International Art Festival (2009) and the Liverpool Biennial (2004, 2016). He has won research fellowships with Yale University and Smithsonian Institution and was included in All the World’s Futures, Venice Biennale 2015, curated by Okwui Enwezor. In 2016 he held solo shows at Whitechapel Gallery and the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale.

The films were made in the US in the last three years including during a three-month residency at the Headlands Center of the Arts in San Francisco. They follow a specific set of rules that Kambalu has established as the defining principles of Nyau Cinema. As the rules dictate, impromptu site-specific interactions with the environment are documented, and, for this body of work, performed by the artist himself.

That which is seemingly meaningless and unrecorded by history, will eventually leak out of the woodwork – Samson Kambalu

Who: Samson Kambalu
Exhibition: Ghost Dance
Gallery: Goodman Gallery, Cape Town
Where: 3rd Floor, Fairweather House, 176 Sir Lowry Rd, Foreshore, Cape Town
When: 15 July – 12 August, 2017