Paul Maheke

Levant

2018

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Not on display

Artist
Paul Maheke born 1985
Medium
Video, high definition, black and white and sound, vinyl, resin, LED light bulbs, gauze, synthetic hair and other materials
Dimensions
Duration: 50min
Overall dimensions variable
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by Tate International Council 2020
Reference
T15635

Summary

Levant 2018 is an installation comprised of a single-channel HD video presented on an LED Smart screen behind a taught holographic gauze, a black vinyl dance mat, and fifteen resin light globes inside which are pieces of synthetic hair, dust and other debris. The globes are placed on the mat or on hanging shelves near the ceiling. The video, which lasts just under an hour, was shot in black and white and plays on a loop. The accompanying soundtrack is shorter than the video being just eighteen minutes in length. The overall display dimensions and arrangement of the globes are variable depending on the space in which the work is exhibited. Levant was commissioned by Lafayette Anticipations on the occasion of the group exhibition Le centre ne peut tenir (The centre will not hold) at Fondation d’entreprise Galeries Layafette, Paris in 2018, where it was first shown.

The installation was made in collaboration with the dancer and choreographer Ligia Lewis and the musician Nkisi (the alias of Melika Ngombe Kolongo). Like Maheke, Lewis and Nikisi share a commitment to interrogating the politics surrounding black bodies and their exclusion. Ligia Lewis (born 1983) is a choreographer and dancer based in Berlin. Her work takes the form of what she describes as ‘affective choreographies’ that challenge the metaphors, and social inscriptions, of the black body. Nkisi is a London-based musician, artist and co-founder of NON Worldwide, a collective of African artists and African diaspora artists who use sound to articulate the structures that create binaries in society, and in turn distribute power. On the subject of his collaboration with the two practitioners from the fields of music and dance, Maheke explained: ‘I like to look at art as a meeting place and, in this case, I was intrigued by how our respective practices, coming from very different places, could meet in the same room.’ (Maheke, interviewed at Lafayette Anticipations, Paris, https://www.lafayetteanticipations.com/en/oeuvre/levant, accessed 14 October 2019.)

Maheke’s practice is centred on the use of performance to explore questions of identity construction and queer black histories. His work investigates gender and racial stereotypes through choreographed performance, installation, video and sound. Illustrative of his practice, Levant shows a performance choreographed by Lewis, who appears in the work alongside Maheke and Nikisi. A central focus of the film is a sequence of movements performed by Lewis which repeat. He performs largely solo, joined only intermittently by the two other protagonists. Dressed in black in a darkened space, the performers appear and disappear, their bodies partially abstracted in a deliberate blurring of the viewer’s field of vision that is further emphasised by the gauze through which the video screen is viewed. Oscillating between visibility and erasure, the bodies of the performers appear almost ghostlike, disconnected from one another throughout. They move to the intense rhythm of the soundtrack by Nikisi, composed of electronic beats overlaid with mumbled spoken words that reverberate in the space. Deep and hypnotic, with a heavy bass, the soundtrack serves to extend the ambiguous dark space the performers inhabit to the dance mat on which the viewer is situated. The overall effect of the installation is both dreamlike and menacing. Titled with the French word for ‘rising’, Levant is a poetic meditation on excluded bodies and black identities.

Further reading
Ciarán Finlayson, ‘Paul Maheke’, Artforum, vol.56, no.8, April 2018, https://www.artforum.com/print/201804/paul-maheke-74669, accessed 20 August 2019.
Alice Bucknell, ‘Paul Maheke: A Fire Circle for a Public Hearing’, Mousse Magazine, no.63, Spring 2018.

Isabella Maidment
October 2019

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