By O.C. Yerebakan
Utilizing socially-engaged practice and urbanism to reflect on prevalent socio-political climates, artist Robin Rhode is known for his work in photography and film, chronicling everyday life through cityscapes and urban architecture. His current exhibition at Lehmann Maupin aligns with his work about the post-apartheid South Africa. In this show, however, the territory he looks to for inspiration is the Middle East. After spending time in the region on the occasion of his exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Rhode witnessed the dynamics between Israelis and Palestinians in terms of power, opportunity, and freedom, and sought to represent these situations here.
Israel’s occupation of Palestinian soil, mingling with concepts of independence and well-being stuck with the artist, one that resonated with a similar fate growing up in South Africa during the final years of the apartheid. The result is a series of c-print photographs in which color, geometry, and architecture unite in various arrangements, capturing a large-scale wall drawing at an undisclosed location. Adding animation and humanity to the photographs’ graphic power are disguised male figures—the artist’s doppelgänger—engaging with the drawings on the wall while donning mute colored attires and even the occasional Palestinian keffiyeh.
Born in Cape Town and currently based in Berlin, Rhode embraces a universal language that benefits from his abstract forms in conjunction with simplistic and whimsical renderings of weighty issues. Suffering the impacts of racial segregation and embargoes on the personal rights of citizens in his hometown, Rhode had a particularly fraught relationship with the South African apartheid during his teenage years, where systematic discrimination based on skin color was strongly evident. After its abolition in the ‘90s, the apartheid left its marks on many lives, including the artist. His work chronicles the life in cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg through graffiti and urban vibrancy. The Geometry of Colour conveys similar ideas, calling the usual threads of his work to mind, while borrowing cues from geometric precision, color study, and ancient rituals, all tied together under iconographies of the Sun.
Sun light and its rays embody universally yearned ideals such as freedom, autonomy, and solidarity, while different shades of yellow, orange, and red illustrate a diverse, but harmonious panorama of color and form. Ominous and nurturing, Sun stands in as a metaphor for life and light, which is an optimistic approach to issues such as occupation, restriction, and segregation. Rhode’s true skill lies in his ability to implement an activist, engaging tone with such optimism.