Collective Nostalgia - Cow Mash, Victoria Nunley, Natalie Terenzini, Zandile Tshabalala

Invitation and Text by Sveva D'Antonio

3 June – 24 July 2021

Photos: Flavio Palasciano

Collective Nostalgia

The art world still exists. Artists, curators, gallerists, museum directors, we are all part of a system that we are presently not physically experiencing due to the impossibility of travelling and of meeting people other than our restricted circle. 

Therefore, how can we reactivate our relationship, our experience as art workers? 

My immediate response came up by speaking with the artists.

Let’s start from here. 

Collective Nostalgia is a group show of women artists born in the 90s. 

The idea of the exhibition was born at the end of October 2020 after a series of Skype calls with different artists. We were talking about how we were living this period and how this pandemic was affecting us and our perception of the future. The shared feeling was a nostalgic attachment to the past, nostalgia for the present and towards the future. This dialogue enabled us to go deeper and investigate broader topics that were keeping us alive. We came up with an idea of community or even better of a feminine collective. And by then, it was clear to me whom to invite to the show at VIN VIN gallery and the process I was going to initiate. I decided to involve two artists and then propose to each of them to invite one artist. 

The first artist to invite was introduced to me by one of the artists I was in contact with at that time: Rebecca Ness (b. 1992, lives and works in New Haven, USA). Rebecca suggested me to look at the work of Victoria Nunley (b. 1991, lives and works in New Jersey, USA). Nunley is a figurative painter just as Rebecca Ness. She has never questioned figuration, not for a single moment. It’s the only way she can paint when looking at things like her childhood toys recently found in her parents’ house. She didn’t enjoy playing with toys, but she would rather stare at them and reflect on the way they look. What we find in Nunley’s paintings is girlhood declined in every aspect. She gives the audience a self-examination of her private life, breakups for instance, and all sorts of feelings that are transferred to the canvas in a process of looking backwards while looking forward. Her paintings are talking for her when she is not able to put into words emotions she wants to share with the world. Nunley’s universe is constellated by her everyday objects such as sneakers, cheap beer bottles and cowboy’s hats. All of this contributes to portray, even non intentionally, a working-class that is concerned about the present. This generation of the 90s truly believe in supporting and helping each other, they foster an idea of collectivism that perhaps should be repeated in the everyday life. 

Having this in mind, the process of invitation - inclusion continued. So Nunley invited Natalie Terenzini (b. 1994 lives and works in New York, USA). Recently graduated from the New York Academy, Terenzini spans from traditional portrait (from a European aesthetic point of view) to mysterious representation of the female body and its surroundings, reminding a lot the so-called “Chicago Imagists”. A thoughtful combination of colour and texture gives to her paintings a tactile sensation that triggers off an increased desire to see more and also, when possible, to touch. 

A frustrated desire that leads to one of the possible interpretations of Nostalgia, as Victoria was pointing out in one of our conversations. <<Nostalgia is like a dream that you strive to remember but the more you try, the more it fades away>> she recalls. Nostalgia can also be a wonderful driving force (according to Victoria Nunley again speaking with me), but we have to pay attention to it because it can turn into a negative meaning if being weaponized for the wrong purpose. It’s a feeling that comes with an experience of the outside world being an image, a sound, a song, a smell. Looking up in the dictionary, Natalie recalls that the nearest word to nostalgia is regret. That being said, an atmosphere of soft sadness arises and drives us to believe that this emotion is more complex than we thought, it’s unreliable and multifaceted. 

Documenting our present times, I couldn’t ignore what is now happening in South Africa with women artists born in the 90s. Zandile Tshabalala (b. 1999 lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa) stands out for the bold glamorous gaze her paintings transfer to the viewer. The female body is depicted in all its great blackness alongside a wild sumptuous nature. In her paintings she thinks of Nostalgia as a dialogue with her former self, with what she was before and how she looks now. 

Naked black women covered in fur with giant palm leaves in their hands look at you and express the artist’s desire to being looked at and to being appreciative of the black colour. She considers herself a student of Kerry James Marshall for the same reason: the use of black colour to paint blackness. 

A strong statement that carries us to the artist invited by Zandile: Cow Mash (b. 1994, lives and works in Pretoria, South Africa). She talks about her artistic practice starting from her self-given name: Cow. In her sculptural works, the female body is deconstructed merged with the cow to analyse the parallels of women and cows. The connection with the rural vs suburb is presented through the use of specific materials and again with the cow. For her Nostalgia is linked to a happy sadness. With this in mind, everything in her universe becomes more magic injecting, in her works a strong sense of collective spirituality linked to the collective gathering of spiritual spaces. 
At the end of the discussion with all the artists, another parallel word to nostalgia came up: hope. Cow Mash was asking herself: where do we look for Hope? None of us was sure about where nor how. Sure is that Nostalgia is a past driven emotion (as Victoria proposed) while Hope is a future driven one. We should, maybe, experience both of them at the same time and convince ourselves that acting is a right choice, make things happen is positive, and that we should appreciate the now even though it’s not ideal. Natalie Terenzini said that she wants to portray casual people being together. This very simple desire resonated in my head all day long and honestly gave me a possible idea of where to find Hope. 

Sveva D'Antonio

Cow Mash (* 1994 in Kgaogelo Mothepa Mashilo, in limpopo Province; she currently works and resides in Pretoria, South Africa) In 2016, Cow created her first life size public sculpture, representing freedom fighter Francis Baard, which forms part of the National Heritage Monument. She graduated in 2017 from Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) with a B-tech in Fine Arts (cum laude), majoring in sculpture. In 2017, became one of three artists to create a 2.5meter sculpture of Political leader Oliver Tambo, which currently stands at the Johannesburg O.R Tambo international airport. She is the winner of the 2019 PPC Imaginarium fashion category and within the same year a finalist in the sculpture category. In 2019, she collaborated on a life size sculpture of Zakithi Nkosi for the Zakithi Nkosi Clinical Haematology Centre of Excellence, located at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital. Southern African Foundation For Contemporary Art (SAFFCA) named Cow Mash their SAFFCA artist of the month in May 2020. Cow is now a Master’s graduate (cum laude) and lecturing in sculpture and fibre arts at TUT in the fine and studio arts department. Cow Mash’s work is inspired by her self-given name “Cow”. The cultures and symbols of the cow within the Sepedi traditions, as well as globally. Through cow metaphors, she visually shares her perspective of the world while interrogating gender, culture, and community constructs. “I navigate my experiences and thoughts through cow-metaphors, cow associations, cow analogies, the parallel lives of cows and women. My use of synthetic material reflects my experience of a rapidly transforming culture. My artworks are an investigation of the past from a present perspective and a negotiation of possible futures through the cow as a bridge between everything” Selected exhibitions: black Luminosity, Smac Art Gallery, Stellenbosch, ZA, 2021; International Cape Town art fair, Cape Town, ZA; making of themselves, BKHZ gallery, Johannesburg, ZA, 2020; the space in between, TMRW gallery, Johannesburg, ZA, 2019; Nirox Sculpture park Winter Fair, Johannesburg, ZA, 2017.

Victoria Nunley (*1991, Plainfield, New Jersey, lives and work in New Jersey, USA) Her practice explores our relationship to self, and how we assess and reassess self- worth. Nunley investigates the complicated, often contradictory ways in which we experience anger, loneliness, guilt, shame, and even happiness. Especially in times of crisis, emotions do not exist singularly — often beneath one lays another. What does it mean to peel back anger and find loneliness? Or find guilt beneath happiness? What are the coping mechanisms we employ, and when do they help and when do they hinder? Nunley finished her BA cum laude in Studio Art in 2014 at Brandeis University, Waltham, USA. She holds an MFA in painting from Boston University, MA, USA. Selected exhibitions: Up Close and Personal, virtual exhibition through TheCurators,2021; Solo Online Viewing Room, 1969 Gallery, New York City, NY; Drowned Neon Rose, online juried show by Kirstin Lamb through I Like Your Work Podcast, 2020; Be. Long. Dutoit Gallery, Dayton, OH, USA; 103/4, 1969 Gallery, New York City, NY, USA, 2019; Map, 1969 Gallery, New York City, NY, USA, 2018; The Salon Show, Abigail Ogilvy Gallery, Boston, MA; Re: Dissonance, Emerson Urban Arts Media Gallery,Boston, MA, USA, 2017. 

Natalie Terenzini (*1996 lives and works in New York City, USA) Her works explore aspects of personal identity that are expressed to different extents based on socially-and environmentally-conditioned norms. The decisions of what to show and what to obscure in her paintings brings into focus the ways in which we present ourselves and our narratives by challenging typical representations. Through her iconography, she focuses on the female-gendered experience in a world which is largely shaped by patriarchal religions to upend expected depictions of womanhood. Terenzini is interested in obscuring the lines between social codes of conduct and their relative spaces, disrupting comfortable conformity in favor of authenticity. Terenzini studied Art and Design in Laguna College, Laguna Beach, CA. She completed her MFA at the New York Academy of Art in New York and attended the Leipzig International Art Programme Residency in Leipzig, Germany. Selected exhibitions: Rinse & Repeat Exhibition, New York Academy of Art, NY, USA; Artist for Artists, New York Academy of Art, NY, USA,2020; PERSONA PERSONA PERSONA, Laden Fuel Nights, LIA, Leipzig, GER,2019; Deck the Walls, New York Academy of Art, NYC, USA, 2018. 

Zandile Tshabalala (*1991 in Soweto, South Africa, lives and work in Johannesburg, South Africa) The mediums she uses most are acrylic, oil paint and at times infuses the two with some sculptural elements and puts it all on canvas. She tends to revisit and make reference to the works of painters who came before her, and interpret or rework the works in the way she sees fit for her narrative and relatable to her practice. To name a few artists, the works of Kerry James Marshall, Njideka Akunyili-Crosby, Cinga Samson, Nandipha Mntambo and Henri Rousseau have stood out the most in influencing the artist’s way of thinking and working through her paintings. In her work she is interested in topics of representation particularly the representation of the black women in historical paintings. The artist noticed a pattern whereby the black woman in paintings was usually placed at the background and starts to disappear almost as if she is not present or is placed in compromising situations that reinforce the idea that the black woman is inferior and should be marginalized. The artist felt a strong need to challenge these ideas and give back the black woman’s voice in her paintings by placing the black female figure in a powerful positon that allows her to be in control of her own body and the gaze that is exchanged between her and the viewer. The artist then starts to tap into topics of beauty, sensuality and the relationship between the black female body and the landscape. Currently, she is completing her BA (FINA) at University of the Witwatersrand. Selected exhibitions: Enter Paradise, ADA Contemporary, Ghana, 2021; Liminality in Infinite Space, African ArAsts’ FoundaAon, NGA; The Medium is the Message, Unit London, London, UK; Colour in Art Exhibition, The Project Space, Johannesburg, ZA; Drawn Together, Unit London, London, UK; Thread, mmArthouse, Johannesburg,ZA; Lean Against Black, Art Lovers 1932, Pretoria, South Africa, 2020; Untitled, Blvck Block, Johannesburg, ZA, 2019.