Fotograf Magazine

Paul Maheke

A Poetic Revolutionary, a Meditating Gunrunner

“There are many kinds of power, used and unused, acknowledged or otherwise”, begins a seductive essay by Audre Lorde. “The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling.”

Paul Maheke’s practice, especially his bodily one, can be understood in a similar way. Always intent on creating a tension between hyper visibility and erasure, watching his performances is as equally intimate as it is voyeuristic. His movements seem both rehearsed and spontaneous, as if observing someone at the gym or maybe on the dance floor. Maheke is not afraid to reveal his own insecurities and vulnerabilities, just as he is not afraid of being silly, yet his movements never fail to be of strong poetic and symbolic power. As a result, audiences are drawn in, in a way that makes them not only witnesses to his physical explorations but rather accomplices.

Conceptually, the artist often moves between dichotomies to create this tension, physically this translates into move-ments that contradict each other, or are arrested at the most unexpected of moments or helplessly repeated. What and how things are made visible is precisely curated. Having grown up in rural France with a Congolese father, the impossibility of being read as merly someone who is of mixed race and in between geographies, Maheke seeks to think outside of these lagging binaries, to step out of a Western rationality and embrace messiness in order to be able to understand different realities all at once and with-out any hierarchies.

So movement becomes a mode of exploration that allows to reach out, and reach back to make sense of the complexities entailed in being diasporic. Because having one’s sense of belonging rendered is as equally violent as it is beautiful. These movements make things surface in a way that is different from planned choreographies: by being ex-posed and disrupting expectations, a shift happens in the power-dynamic between audience and performer, creating a form of shared responsibility for this body that is being represented.

Or so it was until the year Maheke stopped making art, metaphorically speaking, but not only. On 18 March 2020 the artist published an open letter on “why the art world should assist artists beyond representation; in solidarity” entitled “The year I stopped making art”. It is a powerful and painful read. In the letter, the artist jumps between a mul-titude of characters and timelines. What these characters share is that they all had to relinquish their art practice – because of racism, sexism, systemic inequality, discrimination and ultimately because of a lack of genuine support and solidarity from those that can only be called out as mere performative allies.

So how to still find the erotic under these conditions? How to find the erotic when the body has literally become the vessel of a deadly agent? The erotic – that is a “nurturer or nursemaid of all our deepest knowledge”? For Maheke, the only way was to refocus on producing art on his own terms. Without giving too much, but rather by finding a mode of production that “feels closer to one’s own expe-rience”. Because “the sharing of joy, whether physical, emo-tional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference.” And this sharing can happen amongst different bodies coexisting in this space and time but also within one single body connecting a multitude of worlds and lives.

A text written after reading the Uses of the Erotic by Audre Lord and having a conversation with Paul Maheke on 23 March 2021 over Zoom.

PAUL MAHEKE is an artist concerned with decolonial and emancipatory thought and how history, memory and identity are formed. In his practice, the body is used as an archive and movement as an investigation into physical memory. He is currently preparing a performance for the The Renaissance Society, Chicago as well as a solo show at Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg.

LAURA AMANN is part of the curatorial team of Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna and co-curator of Significant Other, Vienna, a project space using an architectural lens in contemporary art. Recent projects have looked at acts of joy, intimacy, desire and sensuality and how they produce spaces for disobedience. She is currently preparing an exhibition that understands insanity as a form of knowledge as well as the 2021 edition of the Oskár Čepan Award.





Laura Amann