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Southern Guild’s New Gallery in Los Angeles Presents Mother Tongues

Jody Paulsen, Open Arms, 2023; Credit Hayden Phipps.

Southern Guild opens its new gallery in Los Angeles with a dual presentation: Mother Tongues, a group exhibition featuring 26 artists from the African continent, and Indyebo yakwaNtu (Black Bounty), a solo show by South African sculptor Zizipho Poswa. The show runs from February 22 thru April 27, 2024.

The term ‘mother tongue’ refers not only to the first language of acquisition, but the first with regard to its importance and the speaker’s ability to master its linguistic and communicative aspects. One’s mother tongue is not only how a person positions themselves to the world, but how they position themselves in the world. Like the body, it is a border – a place of contact and confluence, an intersection of negotiations.

The expansion of Southern Guild into California is not unprecedented. In the late 1960s, a group of artists left South Africa in the wake of the Sharpeville Massacre, mass bannings and the censorship of political parties and cultural workers, eventually establishing a contact point for the interchange of knowledge and meaning between South Africa and California.

Southern Guild positions itself at the later trajectory of this artistic migration. Having willed the promises of the future into the now with his cover of The Mamas and Papas hit California Dreaming, it is in Los Angeles where Hugh Masekela, arguably one of the continent’s most renowned cultural exports, establishes a home for Afro sounds as an imprint of Motown Records. Where Letta Mbulu lays a vocal track on Michael Jackson’s Liberian Girl. Where the Roots soundtrack is produced with several South African musicians. It is here where another touchpoint emerges. A point of contact, a border. Porous and primed for the osmosis of different kinds of “mother tongues” and emergent vernaculars.

With this inaugural exhibition, Southern Guild hopes to open a new chapter of exchange. The show occupies multiple contact zones, moving between visible surfaces and interior states. Taking a multi-generational and transnational lens, it charts the way in which language and pedagogy is channelled into diverse forms of expression. Though the nature of this enquiry requires a singular focus, its sights must be multiple.

Chaos/complexity theorists argue that the development and learning of language is not a straight-forward process. Rather, like Africa-centred understandings of time, language is a sloshing, not an ordering. In Kamyar Bineshtarigh’s large-scale paintings, his interest in calligraphy and script makes room for abstraction; lines become blots and language is layered in such a way that its stratifications, if they exist, are imperceptible. Words, histories are things that sit on top of each other. 

Languages of the intimate vernacular, or, our mother tongues play an interesting role in how we observe and keep rituals of memory and meaning. Ingrained with its own bureaucracies, rules of engagement honed over time, over place. The personal is political, but the vernacular creates its own politic, veiled in the familial, the traditional, the rituals of the mundane and the magical.

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