First presented in the South African Pavilion at the Biennale di Venezia in 2017, Passage is an elegy for the dismemberment of African identity and the after-effects of slavery. The work confronts us with three individuals carrying symbolic objects: a sceptre alluding to lost kingdoms, a whip referencing slavery, and a Basotho blanket revealing the infiltration of Western practices into African cultures (worn widely in South Africa and the Kingdom of Lesotho, these blankets were in fact introduced into Africa by the British in the nineteenth century). The individuals’ clothing is reminiscent of attire worn by nineteenth century-century slaves. They are lying on their backs in a boat seen from above, and begin to perform a series of actions as the water beneath them gradually submerges their bodies. The work alludes to the many who have come to or left South Africa as trade, or cargo, but it also asks us to consider the implications of forced migration and human bondage worldwide.
Mohau Modikaseng is a multidisciplinary artist, whose practice is deeply engaged with post-apartheid South African identity, as well as with broader socio-political issues, including forced migration, nationhood and inequality. A graduate of the Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town, he was the winner of the Sasol New Signatures Competition in 2011.