Moshekwa Langa

Where Do I Begin

2001

In Tate Modern

Artist
Moshekwa Langa born 1975
Medium
Video, colour and sound (stereo)
Dimensions
Duration: 4min, 5sec
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by Emile Stipp 2021
Reference
T15628

Summary

This short colour video with sound lasting just over four minutes focuses on the legs and feet of people in a queue as they board a public bus in the artist’s hometown of Bakenberg, approximately 300 kilometres north of Johannesburg in South Africa. Shot from the perspective of a child, the image is shaky and tightly cropped, focusing on the slow steps of those in the queue, the tyres of the bus and the dusty red ground. As the queue shuffles forwards, we see shoes cracking with age, a missing sock, stained skirt, swollen ankles and bulging bags interspersed with meticulously pressed men’s trousers and shiny shoes. Ambient sounds are overlaid with an extract from Shirley Bassey’s rendition of ‘Where Do I Begin’, a popular song from the film Love Story (1970). The work is number 2 in an edition of 3 plus 2 artist’s proofs. The video can be projected or shown on a monitor.

Like much of Langa’s work, the details in this deceptively simple scene invite the viewer to create their own narrative about who these people are and where they are going. Of this work the artist has said: ‘Where Do I Begin 2001 wasn’t exactly found footage but came about as a kind of home video. While filming people getting on a bus, I noticed that just by looking at the hemlines of people’s skirts, or the shoes they were wearing, you could tell quite a lot about them.’ (Quoted in ‘Moshekwa Langa in Conversation with Kobena Mercer’, in Farrell 2003, pp.107–8.)

Although Langa has been an itinerant artist for the past twenty years, moving between Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris and Johannesburg, much of his work remains rooted in Bakenberg where he was born and spent his formative years. Historian Tracy Murinik has observed that Bakenberg ‘has become, for Langa, a space – and an idea of a space – of continual longing; a signifier of home or stable existence’ (in Stevenson Gallery 2017, p.4). In the late 1970s and early 1980s Bakenberg was still a relatively small village. According to Langa, Bakenberg had no street names in the conventional sense, which did not mean that there were no names, but rather that there was another system involving associating places with people and landmarks to navigate the landscape (http://www.goodman-gallery.com/exhibitions/312, accessed 18 December 2018). In his earliest works Langa sought to capture an essence of his birthplace, creating map-like drawings that incorporate written descriptors. Where Do I Begin goes further, providing a glimpse not only of the place, but also of its inhabitants.

The title of the work is taken from the song sung by Shirley Bassey. However, by extracting and repeating the single refrain ‘where do I begin’, Langa evokes a story while withholding the narrative. Murinik has suggested that the title references Langa’s own attempts to explain and acknowledge the multiple aspects of himself and, by reflecting on the place where it all began, is as relevant today as it was when the work was made in 2001 (in Stevenson Gallery 2017, p.3). Where Do I Begin was presented at the Venice Biennale in 2003 and, as one of the artist’s signature works, has been included in numerous other exhibitions including, more recently, Art/Afrique, le nouvel atelier at the Louis Vuitton Foundation, Paris in 2017.

Further reading
‘Moshekwa Langa in Conversation with Kobena Mercer’, in Laurie Ann Farrell, Looking Both Ways: Art of the Contemporary African Diaspora, Ghent 2004, pp.98–113.
Anna Mattirolo (ed.), Moshekwa Langa, Milan 2005.
Tracy Murinik, ‘Traversing Worlds’, in Moshekwa Langa: Fugitive, exhibition catalogue, Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg 2017.

Kerryn Greenberg
December 2018

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