What do our oceans remember? The shifting of the continents? Migrating schools of fish and mammals? The movement of ships transporting enslaved peoples across the Atlantic? The breath of those who sought freedom? These questions animate Dineo Seshee Bopape’s multichannel sound and video installation Lerato laka le a phela le a phela le a phela/My love is alive, is alive, is alive (2022). Based in South Africa, Bopape brings together video, sound, and natural materials in works that consider how the social, political, and spiritual histories of the African diaspora inhabit the physical world around us.
Lerato laka le a phela pays homage to the 12 million enslaved people who crossed the Atlantic—those who survived and those who fled into the waters to seek sanctuary. Across three screens, the artist is seen submerging her hands and placing fruit, flowers, and various libations in the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Jamaica. Audio elements are incorporated through Bopape’s rhythmic drumming of the water and her singing in her mother tongue, Sepedi. The work was inspired by the whip-lacerated back of an African American man known only as Peter (formerly misnamed Gordon), who escaped American slavery in the 18th century and whose story of resilience of spirit continues to be told through a widely circulated photograph.
Projected on a limestone surface, the videos are surrounded by a ring of rocks. A wash of soil has been applied to the gallery walls. Bringing together soil, rock, clay, and water, the work allows multiple timelines—the geological, the historical, and the personal—to converge in the present. For Bopape, this connection to the physical world is an exploration of collective memory: “It’s an act of spiritual and a political rebellion to remember—to not forget what one is being asked to forget.”
The artist gratefully acknowledges her luminous ancestors and ancestors of all lands and waters who support the work including Bob Marley and Lucky Dube. She also acknowledges Judith Gordon, Alice French, Joy McMillian, Biata Roytbund and Powerhouse Arts, Riverine Ranch, 11th Street Workshop, Amber Essevia, Andrée Sfeir-Semler, Ana Siler, Markus Reymann, Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza, Tlokwe Sehume, Rachael Barrett, Nickie Meyers, and Starasea Camara.
Lerato laka le a phela le a phela le a phela/My love is alive, is alive, is alive (2022) is commissioned by TBA21–Academy and co-produced with Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan.
Organized by Martha Joseph, The Phyllis Ann and Walter Borten Assistant Curator of Media and Performance, Department of Media and Performance.