Featuring newly commissioned work, Ile aye, moya, là, ndokh…harmonic conversions…mm, South African artist Dineo Seshee Bopape’s solo exhibition at the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University, opened on Friday, September 24. The African words in the show’s title call to the elements: Earth, wind, fire, and water, summoned in Yoruba, Nguni/Sepedi, Ga, and Wolof, respectively.

Images, objects, and sounds made out of soil and water from Virginia, Louisiana, Senegal, Ghana, and South Africa resonate throughout the gallery, referencing the cities, ports, and waterways that played important roles in the enslavement of people. These transatlantic spaces are all sites of historic crimes, and Bopape uses them to consider the enslaved, captors, facilitators, collaborators, and enslavers, intending to call attention to the living memories carried by the earth and its waterways. For the plantations, harbors, and trading posts where human life was sold and consumed are still evident in our built environments today: In their visible construction, in the wealth created by forced labor, and in the festering social wounds that are so often masked.

Yet Bopape moves beyond the narrative of enslavement, exploring the many ways in which people escaped and found freedom through running, spirituality, community, and creativity. She means for her work to highlight the connectedness of disparate places, both historically and materially, and forge harmonic conversions with ancestral pasts, presents, and futures.

Through this exhibition, Bopape aims to pay homage to those who were taken, those who struggled, those who fled, and those who still seek sanctuary in the spaces between captivity and an illegal freedom.

The ICA is free and open to the public. To learn more, visit icavcu.org.

Dineo Seshee Bopape: Ile aye, moya, là, ndokh…harmonic conversions…mm is curated by Amber Esseiva, Curator at the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University.