Center for Historical Reenactments

The Center for Historical Reenactments (CHR) is a collaborative platform based in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Since it’s founding in 2010 CHR has responded to the demands of the current moment through an exploration into the historical legacies and their resonance and impact on contemporary art. By addressing current urgencies, which have grown over the debris of the issues of the past CHR has embarked on activities (events, seminars, exhibitions, residencies, interventions, etc), engaged local (South Africa) and international practitioners and raised questions about the political potentials of artistic interpretations of histories.

In their projects, CHR has investigated how, within a particular historical hegemony, certain values have been created, promoted and subsequently sublated into a broader universal discourse. CHR recognizes that historical constructions play essential, almost central roles in the formation of the apparatus and what has been taken for granted as a given in the dominant world order. Therefore within the scope of emancipatory artistic productions, historical reenactments as an artistic framework can, and do play a significant role. CHR explores how artistic production helps us to deconstruct particular readings of history and how historical context informs artistic creation, both which become central questions. How art can help us reinterpret history and its contextual implications and how it can add and suggest different historical readings and help in the formation of new subjectivities.

CHR was conceptualized in April 2010 by Gabi Ngcobo and Sohrab Mohebbi after the duo co-curated a performance event titled “Rope-a-dope: To Win a Losing War” at Cabinet space in Brooklyn, New York. Rope-a-dope, a fighting strategy employed by Muhammad Ali to defeat George Foreman in the infamous “Rumble in the Jungle” boxing match (Zaire, 1974), is based on the idea of enduring your adversary’s repeated blows until they exhaust themselves, before you finally rise up to triumph over them. Following this historical encounter and the events surrounding it, the term and strategy have been deployed in the public sphere to reference similar strategies in politics, business negotiations, artistic strategies and personal relationships. 
CHR was launched in Johannesburg, South Africa with the staging of the site-specific project “PASS-AGES: references & footnotes” in collaboration with the Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism (JWTC).  PASS-AGES took place at the site of the former Pass Office at number 80 Albert Street, a site associated with the most basic work of the apartheid state… the control of black bodies across the South African landscape. CHR was co-founded with artist Kemang Wa-Lehulere in July 2010 and launched in a project space located in the east part of the Johannesburg with a performance by Wa-Lehulere and a talk by Eungie Joo, then Curator of Education and Public Programs at the New Museum in New York. In November 2010, CHR launched its lengthy research project “Xenoglossia, a research project” with artist Donna Kukama who became an active member of CHR.

Ngcobo, Wa-Lehulere and Kukama formed the core of what CHR was to be and, in 2012 were joined by former CHR intern Sanele Manqele and Mbali Khoza. In December 2012, CHR staged an ending or “institutional suicide” with “We are absolutely ending this,” an event which reconsidered what it means to outlive central questions foregrounded in the project’s formation. This event produced “After-after Tears” a project that took place at the New Museum, Museum as Hub. The title makes references to terminology relating to after-burial gatherings that are a popular youth culture in South African townships. This trend—also known as “Wie sien ons?” (Afrikaans for “Who is seeing us?”)—became a fitting frame for a project that explored commemoration, and more specifically, the cultural performances and rituals around death—whether that of a person, institution, or era.

In 2011 CHR was invited to take part at the 11th Lyon Biennale titled “A Terrible Beauty is Born” curated by Victoria Noorthoorn where the project “Xenoglossia, a research project” was presented to an international audience for the first time. CHR has also been featured in the traveling exhibition “The Rise and Fall of Apartheid” curated by Okwui Enwezor and Rory Bester, “Other Possible Worlds: Proposals on this Side of Utopia” at the NGBK, Berlin and “Condition Report” at Raw Material Company in Dakar, Senegal.In 2014 CHR will take part in the 8th Berlin Biennale with a project titled “Digging Our Own Graves 101”. CHR continues to instigate new ways of inhabiting institutions, one perhaps akin to haunting. It’s staged ‘death’ in December 2012 foregrounded the project’s intention to not simply conclude a single phase but rather to re-evaluate larger institutional functions and time frames that could enable a different existence. CHR is currently located at the Wits School of Art.