Meleko Mokgosi (b. 1981, Francistown, Botswana; lives in New York) wields the traditions of Western European painting to deliver sharp political critiques relating to the postcolonial condition. Exhibited at the museum is a large-scale, newly commissioned work by Mokgosi created for the museum’s distinctive 30-foot double-height project gallery.


The project centers on the 1966 film Unsere Afrikareise (Our Trip to Africa) by the seminal filmmaker Peter Kubelka.


The disconcerting dimensions of Unsere Africareise have often been cited, together with Kubelka’s stated disgust with his bourgeois patrons, to support the argument that he meant the work to serve as a critique of European colonialism and tourism in Africa. Mokgosi takes a more critical perspective, however, citing Kubelka’s insistence that his true intention was to “try and tear the emotions loose from the people, so that they would gain distance to their emotions, their feelings.” Taking Kubelka at his word, Mokgosi infuses the film with a new emotional force, reversing the desensitized tone that often accompanies modernist aesthetic treatments of non-Western subjects. As he has often done before, Mokgosi drives this critique through the heart of the Western art historical canon.

Combining a high degree of painterly skill with a poetic, open-ended semiotic approach and a penchant for deep archival research, the artist shines light on some of the complex socioeconomic dynamics that animate contemporary southern Africa. Mokgosi typically employs hyperrealistic figurative imagery on a large scale, incorporating mysterious, unidentified personages loosely linked to one another in implied storylines, sometimes spanning multiple timeframes within the same composition. Mokgosi’s work references murals and cinema as well as the conventional European artistic genre known as history painting. Associated primarily with the Neoclassical period of the 18th and 19th centuries, history paintings depict events drawn from history or mythology in ways that valorize contemporaneous political figures and forces. Whereas traditional history paintings feature lofty subjects—military battles or climactic scenes drawn from ancient legends—Mokgosi elevates everyday, anonymous persons and common objects, setting them against mundane domestic contexts while inserting references that establish an array of subtle yet powerful suggestive effects.


Meleko Mokgosi completed the Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, received a BA from Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts in 2007 and a MFA from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), in 2011. Solo exhibitions of his work have been presented at the Fowler Museum at UCLA; Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown; Jack Shainman Gallery, New York; Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; and Honor Fraser Gallery, Los Angeles. His work has been included in group exhibitions at the California African American Museum, Los Angeles; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; New Wight Gallery, UCLA; National Library of Cameroon, Yaounde; Whitney Museum of American Art; National Gallery, Gaborone, Botswana; and the Augusta Savage Gallery, University of Massachusetts, Amherst. His work is included in the collections of The Studio Museum in Harlem; Hammer Museum; Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida; Colby Museum of Art, Waterville, Maine; and Pérez Art Museum Miami, among other institutions.