Madness and Civilisation

Curated by:
Candice Allison
// Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, 2018
// Kalmar Konstmuseum, Sweden, 2019


In November 2017, Kudzanai Chiurai’s first solo exhibition in his home country, We Need New Names, went on view at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe. Its timing was prescient. While the country’s longstanding former President Robert Mugabe was being ousted through a military-led coup, Chiurai was exhibiting his politically-driven work, which combines art historical imagery with references from popular culture and archival material to explore the visual language and tropes that help construct myths, history, and ultimately, power.

Under the continued curation of Candice Allison, Madness and Civilization re-staged this exhibition in 2018, alongside new works and research that highlighted Chiurai’s creative projects over the previous two years. It took its title from Michel Foucault’s seminal 1964 text Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason.

‘Madness & Civilization’, Kalmar Konstmuseum, Sweden, 2019

The exhibition maintained Chiurai’s practice of revisiting and rejecting ‘colonial futures’, which fuel the notion that Africans should think, speak and act like their colonizers.

The entry point into Madness and Civilization was a new series (at the time) of mixed-media drawings. Fashioned in the likeness of screen printed propaganda critical of white supremacy in 1970s Rhodesia-Zimbabwe, these drawings are collaged with found letters, photographs, and images torn from The Kaffirs Illustrated, a reprinted folio of watercolour paintings originally produced in 1849. On top of each drawing, Chiurai inscribed imagined letters by Foucault, writing on the intrinsic nature of madness – a diagnosis Chiurai believes was used to motivate colonial expansion and white minority rule in Africa and continues to serve as a contributing factor to the failure of post-colonial African nation-states.

In addition, the exhibition presented a selection of images from Chiurai’s photographic series Genesis [Je n’isi isi] (2016) and We Live in Silence (2017). The gallery’s video room featured the film We Live in Silence: Chapters 1-7, which had recently screened at the Berlin International Film Festival, and later that year headed to the Rencontres du Film Court de Madagascar and Dak’Art Biennale. Several listening stations also offered visitors the chance to browse Chiurai’s library of vinyl records, which includes a selection of Zimbabwean Chimurenga music and South African anti-apartheid struggle music, as well as rare recordings of speeches by Ian Smith, Kwame Nkrumah, Mobutu Sese Seko, Dr Martin Luther King Jr, author Alex Haley, and a dramatic re-enactment of the trial of Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale.