I cut my skin to liberate the splinter includes six groups of sculptural objects. Many of them are made from salvaged school desks, a material that relates to the importance of education in South Africa. Under the apartheid system of racial segregation, Black people had little access to education. This was one of the ways in which the white government subjugated the Black population. Access to free education remains a critical issue.
Parts of the installation – including old car tyres, birdhouses and porcelain dogs – suggest a range of associations and meanings that relate to South African history. These include the forced removal of Black South Africans under the Group Areas Act of 1950, the voluntary and involuntary exile of those who opposed apartheid, the student uprisings of the mid-1970s and the build-up to the first democratic elections in 1994. In explaining the title, Wa Lehulere has said that ‘to cut oneself to liberate that which hurts is a poetic act towards generosity and a desire for freedom.’
The installation can also be activated through performances. The performers interact with the sculptures, which sound designer Daniel Bruce Gray helped to develop to double as makeshift musical instruments. Wa Lehulere and theatre director Chuma Sopotela choreographed a series of actions borrowed from children’s games. The performance’s music was inspired by the documentary Cosmic Africa, about the South African astrophysicist Thebe Medupe. Medupe travelled across the continent to research ancestral knowledge about the cosmos and its transmission through ceremonies and oral history. As he discovered, artworks in Africa have historically played a central role in preserving and communicating knowledge, a theme to which Wa Lehulere has repeatedly returned.
Curated by Kerryn Greenberg
I cut my skin to liberate the splinter was originally commissioned by Performa, 2017. Supported by Marian Goodman Gallery. The Maja Hoffmann / LUMA Foundation Tank.