Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi: Gymnasium

Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi, "Start Value", 2019, 1450x1160cm, Oil on Canvas. Courtesy the artist and Stevenson Gallery

Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi: Gymnasium


September 17, 2019—January 5, 2020


In this new wall painting commissioned by The Africa Center, Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi (b. 1980, USA) continues to work with key themes and imagery from an ongoing series of paintings titled Gymnasium.

Elite gymnastics occupies a powerful symbolic position in the public imagination—the human body performing at, and sometimes seemingly beyond, the limits of the possible. The gymnasium is a stage where dramas are enacted under a gaze of intense scrutiny. Gymnasts become actors, producing layered narratives of far-reaching metaphorical and political significance. One of the most personally affecting narratives in the recent history of the sport has been that of the precarious position of the Black body in traditionally white spaces.

In this installation, the walls of The Africa Center become a vast, abstracted arena in which a lone gymnast performs (or falters) before the scrutinizing gaze of robed judges. Perhaps the visitors to this installation are also under their gaze. And who exactly are these faceless onlookers? Contemporary critics, futuristic visitors or Amadlozi, the ancestors, witnessing us?

“Looking at this sport, I see echoes of the process of painting—expression within the demands of form, attention to balance and geometry. I also see parallels with the painter’s position in the contemporary art world. The artist, like the gymnast, is a performer (if at times a reluctant performer) whose actions are subjected to constant scrutiny, for whom increasing exposure brings a heightened experience of vulnerability.” TNN

Nkosi began the installation on September 17, 2019, and visitors to The Africa Center were able to watch the work evolving over the course of two weeks.




We will be marking the completion of Gymnasium with a party on Thursday, October 10, at 7:30PM. RSVP to join us and celebrate in the presence of the artist.

Portrait of Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi by Akona Kenqu
Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi. Photo: Akona Kenqu

About the Artist

Nkosi was born in 1980 in New York, and raised between there, Harare and Johannesburg, where she now lives. She obtained her BA from Harvard University (2004) and her MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York (2008). Nkosi divides her time between studio work, performance and navigating the field of art as social practice. Her first solo exhibition—with Stevenson Gallery—is scheduled for early 2020 in Johannesburg. Recent group exhibitions include Lost Lover, Rampa, Porto, Portugal (2019); About Face, Stevenson, Cape Town (2018); NIEPODLEGŁE, Women, Independence and National Discourse, Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw (2018); Five Propositions, Roberts Projects, Los Angeles (2018); Moving Stills – Affective Archives, Mumok Cinema, Vienna (2018); A Painting Today, Stevenson, Johannesburg (2017); Art/Afrique, le nouvel atelier, Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris (2017); Kabbo ka Muwala (The Girl’s Basket), National Gallery of Zimbabwe, Harare (2016); Transforming Provocations, The Flaherty NYC, New York (2016); The Film Will Always Be You, Tate Modern, London (2015). Nkosi recently became the 15th recipient of South Africa’s Tollman Award for the Visual Arts.

Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi: Gymnasium is organized by Uzodinma Iweala, CEO, and Evelyn Owen, Curatorial Fellow. This exhibition is made possible with support generously provided by The Africa Center’s Board of Trustees.



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