This Is a True Story: Short Films by Penny Siopis

Penny Siopis is one of the most significant artists working in South Africa today. Spanning more than 30 years and shifting across media, her work explores what she calls the “poetics of vulnerability,” challenging memory and creating counternarratives to the history propagated by the apartheid regime. In her films, human vulnerability is given form in fragile images and materials that tell stories about anonymous, everyday people, their lives shaped by political violence and domination. These stories speak also to larger political concerns: to histories of migration, exile, colonialism, and apartheid. Obscure White Messenger and The Master Is Drowning, both included in this program, are idiosyncratic explorations of 1960s South Africa and apartheid in the era of notorious South African prime minister H. F. Verwoerd (known as the “architect of apartheid”). Presented in conjunction with South Africa in Apartheid and After.


Penny Siopis (South Africa)

Assistant Curators:
Michaela Limberis (South Africa), The African Arts Trust Assistant Curator of the Moving Image, Centre for the Moving Image, Zeitz MOCAA
Precious Mhone (Malawi), Torben Wind Assistant Curator of the Centre for the Moving Image, Zeitz MOCAA

This exhibition brings together works made over a twenty-year period by South African artist Penny Siopis. While Siopis is best known for her painting, the focus of this exhibition is on the medium of film as an essential part of her practice.

The Centre for the Moving Image is a unique space in the museum created to present a number of moving image works concurrently. This exhibition chronologically maps Siopis’ film works, allowing us to experience the continuation of her production over time, in a single space.

In addition to her growing archive of 8mm and 16mm found footage, the artist draws from official documents, newspaper clippings and personalized accounts of history, to project a multiplicity of voices through combined fragments of text, image and music. The concrete silos of the Centre for the Moving Image may be likened to the mind, alluding to its cognitive faculties in the making of memories and the assembling of time.

In each intimate chamber is projected the first-person narrative of an individual caught up in larger social and political forces. Each story has an elemental quality that speaks beyond its origins. The story is told through a voice present in the text. A Greek migrant; a disembodied Irish nun; a man not at home in his own mind; the ever-changing strains of a piece of music, the melody in Welcome Visitors! The individuals’ stories become connected through a shared sense of real and imagined displacement in Southern Africa, echoed here in this physical space.

The text in the films becomes ‘the voice in the head’.  Created by the artist, re-created by the spectator in every instance of reading, looking and listening.

In a series of specialized walkabouts, the Centre for the Moving Image atZeitz MOCAA will delve deeper into Penny Siopis’ exhibition, ‘This is a True Story: Six Films (1997-2017)’, a retrospective of twenty years of filmmaking by the artist.

Over the course of a month, these weekly walkabouts will explore the multi-layered elements of Siopis’ films. ‘This is a True Story: In the Making’ launches the series with an artist-led walkabout, providing insight into Siopis’ working methodology, with a focus on materiality.

Thereafter, the specialised weekly walkabouts will look to experts whose fields of interest can unpack the multi-layered elements of Siopis’s films, exploring the use of music in her work, her fascination with memory, and the ever-present themes of migration and displacement. The ongoing series of specialised walkabout will take place every Wednesday at 3 pm from 21 March – 11 April 2018.

About Penny Siopis:
Penny Siopis was born in 1953 in Vryburg, South Africa, and lives in Cape Town. She has an MFA (1976) and an Honorary Doctorate (2017) from Rhodes University, Grahamstown. Siopis is currently an Honorary Professor at Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town.

She works in painting, film/video, photography and installation. Her work since the early 1980s has covered different foci but her interest in what she calls the ‘poetics of vulnerability’ characterises all her explorations, from her earlier engagements with history, memory and migration to her later concerns with shame, violence and sexuality.

This event is free but RSVP is required. Please email to RSVP.

This event has been organised by Michaela Limberis, the Wendy Fisher Assistant Curator of the Centre for the Moving Image and Precious Mhone, the Torben Wind Assistant Curator for the Centre of the Moving Image.

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