A closed fist can signal any number of things: resistance, power, insurrection, insurgency, recalcitrance. It can also denote good luck or even be playful (such as the children’s game in which one person pretends to pluck the nose from another’s face). In Lerato Shadi’s work, I know what a closed fist means, 2020, four floor-to-ceiling photographs depict a forearm clenched in variations of the eponymous hand gesture. The multiple possible interpretations of the images point to the myriad ways in which knowledge is produced and disseminated depending on one’s cultural experiences and locale.
The exhibition’s title, “Di Sa Bonweng,” is a Setswana phrase alluding to things that cannot be seen. In her practice, Shadi uses installation, performance, and video to reflect on how certain histories and ways of knowing have been made invisible through exclusion. Sometimes things are occluded not because they are purposefully hidden but because they require close looking. Mosako wa Nako II, 2016, presents the results of a performance in which the artist spent several hours publicly crocheting. The knitted form demands a kind of intimacy from its viewer, as one must spend time with the work to fully grasp the complexity of the patterns and color palette.
In her 1977 essay, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action,” Audre Lorde writes, “Because I am myself—a Black woman warrior poet doing my work—come to ask you, are you doing yours?” Shadi is doing the work, sometimes literally. The video_ Selogilwe, _2010, documents a performance in which the artist sat on a plinth knitting for seven long hours. The lack of sound in the video emphasizes the passage of time; Shadi’s relative stillness is interrupted only by small, agitated movements as fatigue begins to set in. The depiction of the laboring body, evoked but unseen in the other works, leads the viewer to a more embodied, less hegemonic understanding of knowledge.