Lungiswa Gqunta: “Sleep in Witness” at the Henry Moore Institute

Lungiswa Gqunta’s dreamscapes address intricate colonial legacies at the Henry Moore Institute

South African artist Lungiswa Gqunta examines systems of knowledge, spirituality and collective experiences in her first UK solo exhibition, Sleep in Witness, at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds

South African artist Lungiswa Gqunta’s ‘Dreamscapes’ occupy three rooms at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds for her UK solo exhibition ‘Sleep in Witness’, stimulating conversations about systems of knowledge, spirituality and collective experiences in a society shaped by colonial legacies. Gqunta seems to be enlightened by dreams, she records them as a spiritual practice and connects to them to imagine her work (the team around her had to trust the artist’s instincts while creating the landscapes for the exhibition by using following her intuition to form a clay floor and hanging intricate “waves” from the ceiling).

Through dreams and conversations with mothers in her family and with friends, the artist gains an understanding of her experiences as a black woman and creates a platform for a form of knowledge not commonly accepted in Western scholarship. Curator Laurence Sillars states that “the systems of apartheid have discredited so many different ways of knowing and transmitting knowledge”. Gqunta ‘brings personal identities and travel back to the fore; this exhibition shows other ways of getting information and collecting.’

Lungiswa Gunta, zinodaka, 2022 at the Henry Moore Institute

Zinodaka, 2022, fills the first room of the exhibition; A layer of dried clay covers the entire ground, which has been manipulated by Gqunta’s bare feet to create ridges and hills, forming a landscape she imagined in her sleep. Aptly named “water rocks” are scattered across the scene – hollow and crystal blue. They were formed by impressing rocks into their hand-blown glass surface, leaving an imprint of the natural environment.

The dirt floor has cracked as it dries, and as you walk around the room, the cracks get bigger. Every step or shift in weight creates a crunch that reminds us of our unexpected impact. There is much intrigue in Gqunta’s work and his exploration of our senses broadens potential audiences. It’s easy to imagine the room filled with children enjoying the crunch under their feet and staring into misshapen “water globes”.

Lungiswa Gunta, zinodaka, 2022 at the Henry Moore Institute

Zinodaka conveys a sense of contributing to the shattering of something that is simultaneously blatant in the landscape of ongoing colonialism in South Africa and subtly sitting in a Leeds art gallery.

Gqunta says she “likes the idea of ​​two different parts colliding, whether peaceful or violent.” The complex experience of dreams is a fundamental concept that must be brought into Sleep in Witness to understand its construction. Gqunta wanted the show to feel like moving through different dreams; it pops out of the rugged, water-sprinkled landscape Zinodaka into the tangle of two crashing waves Ntabamanzi2022.

Lungiswa Gunta, ntabamanzi, 2022 at the Henry Moore Institute

Using a technique previously used in Caring for the harvest of dreamsOn December 20, 2021, Gqunta and her team spent seven months wrapping barbed wire in strips of blue fabric and allowing the wire to maintain its ruffled structure. The entanglements start on the floor on opposite sides of the room and rise, meeting in the middle and leaving an arch to walk under.

The space triggers images of parting seas and crashing waves, small wire tips protruding again from beneath the blue packaging, ensuring we take care of our bodies – this time as a result of the potential danger that surrounds us. Metal coins get tangled in the waves – a detail that alludes to the hope and wisdom of the ocean.

Lungiswa Gunta, Collect, 2019 at the Henry Moore Institute

Room three contains a 15-minute video describing Gqunta as a “place of rest.” The original name for the work – now called Collect2019 – was Riotous Gathering, which referred to the Riotous Assemblies Act introduced in South Africa in 1956, which prohibited a certain number of black people from assembling in one place. ‘I thought [that coming together] was really nice because it’s the common spaces where there’s a lot of rejuvenation and a lot of rejection and denial of oppressive systems,” says Gqunta.

The black and white video is projected onto a brown wall that reflects the brown of the dirt floor Zinodaka, 2022, and shows Gqunta and a friend chanting ‘yakhal’inkomo’ (the bull cry in the Nguni languages ​​historically referring to the unspeakable pain of rule for blacks in aparthied South Africa), ritualistic, comforting, while leaflets. It seems to acknowledge and restate a historic and deep-rooted struggle felt by Black people living under systems of oppression.

They spend the 15 minutes taking breaks and coming together, leaves appearing to flow in a continuation of the show’s water theme. One important thing, Sillars says, is that “this piece sits back-to-back with the photo of Gqunta’s family on the outside of the building.” It brings a continuity to the structure of the show and fits perfectly thematically with the disordered and associative nature of dreams, giving us one final thought detail: where there are dreams, there are ongoing stories and a continual clashing of worlds. §

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