Serge Alain Nitegeka / interview


[Kwon] Your personal experience and real-life situations seem to have large influence on your current works. How did you get to develop the theme of Cargo that is implied in your sculptures and installation works?

[Nitegeka]The theme of cargo developed when I was experimenting with nude charcoal self-portraits on surfaces of second hand crates to explore forced migration. I began to see the body as the load being moved illegitimately across borders, where the crate functioned as the body and as a vessel. Themes of human trafficking and slavery also came to the fore.


[Kwon] Your works imply the themes of Black subject and migration, but at the same time those are highly sophisticated and abstract in their formal language. What kind of process do you go through while you arrange and compose the wooden crates/boards? Do you go through the extensive preparation process such as making sketches?

[Nitegeka] I follow different processes when it comes to making site-specific installations and paintings. Mental preparation takes the most time and energy when it comes to site-specific works. This is because I usually don’t ask for visual information of the site or conduct a pre-visit. I have to be prepared to work within a short period of time with the materials I requested in advance. If I run short of materials, it’s a happy mistake that further reinforces the make-do attitude I have adapted for making art. I have to be prepared for whatever comes, the show must go up. Upon arriving at the site, I spend some time, usually a couple of hours or days, visualizing the possibilities. Once that’s done, a decision is quickly made and an installation goes up. I don’t make sketches. This way of working and this approach to space sets up a conceptual framework that is metaphorical to the way in which refugees have to be prepared for any eventualities while they seek refuge. The process leading up to making a painting is shorter in comparison. I make paintings from a pool of images of previous installations. Decisions on which one to paint are based on the best possible angles of aesthetic beauty.


Please explain about the installation work Tunnels that you presented at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. Were there any specific aspects/directions of your works that you especially wanted the viewer to experience?

[Nitegeka] The work at Grahams Town Arts Festival titled: “…and walk in my shoes.” was more of an obstacle course than a tunnel. As the title implies, I quite literally wanted the viewers to walk in my shoes. I wanted them to experience the journey of obstacles that refugees have to make along with the difficult encounters they have to overcome while fleeing. I wanted to simulate this, if you like, and even position the viewer to make meaning out of being forced to move in an obstructed fashion.


[Kwon] I would like to know if you had any interesting reactions or special experiences when you visited New York for the Armory Show last time. Also, tell us about your upcoming projects.

[Nitegeka] Yes indeed. Showing at the Armory Show was special! My work was received very well. New York was lovely and left me extremely delighted. I’ve got solo shows at STEVENSON, Johannesburg in August and at Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York in November. I also have a residency at Yorkshire Sculpture Park in England mid-next year.


[Kwon] What do you want to portray with the frequent inclusion of plants and water in your work?

[Washburn] Plants are a way to insert real life into the installations. The first time I included plants in a project it was exciting for me because I was forced to incorporate a whole new set of rules and a new system into the installation that was not my own. I had to provide for the plants and try to plan for every detail of maintaining them but then ultimately they were going to behave as they wanted to.  They plants would live, die, thrive, suffer and all of this would happen in one installation and it seemed so exciting to see this new set of systems at play.


Serge Alain Nitegeka was born in Burundi in 1983 and lives and works in Johannesburg. He completed his undergraduate studies in 2009 and is currently finishing his Master's degree at the University of the Witwatersrand. He won the Robert Hodgins Prize at Wits University in 2008, and the Tollman Award for the Visual Arts in 2010. He was selected for the Dakar Biennale in 2010 and awarded a Fondation Jean Paul Blachère prize. He was a festival artist at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in 2011, showing a new installation in the Gallery in the Round. Group exhibitions include Space, Ritual, Absence: Liminality in South African visual art at the FADA Gallery, University of Johannesburg (2011); Time's Arrow at the Johannesburg Art Gallery (2010); and Beyond the Line at the Goethe Institute in Johannesburg (2008).



Image Courtesy of Serge Alain Nitegeka
This interview was published in bob Magazine Vol. 119 (June 2014) pp. 114-119