Nirox Zoo Exhibition

Press Release: ZOO – The NIROXprojects year-end exhibition 2013.

EXHIBITION CURATORS: Ann-Marie Tully and Neil Nieuwoudt

EXHIBITION CONCEPT/BRIEF: This group exhibition gathers together a group of established and emerging artists whose artwork relates in theme/manner/medium to Lauren Beukes’ Arthur C Clarke award-winning novel, Zoo City (2011). This text frames Johannesburg as the seedy science fiction setting for a long tale (tail) where a criminal underclass and their animal companions live in a magical and hellish reality. In Zoo City Beukes has mobilised to great effect the entwined literal and metaphoric understanding of the English word “Zoo”:

zoo [zuː]

n pl zoos

A park-like area where live animals are kept in cages and enclosures, studied, bred, and exhibited to the public. Formal term zoological garden

[shortened from zoological gardens (originally applied to those in London)].

A place, activity, or group marked by chaos, strange, or unrestrained behaviour.

Beukes’ text also draws on the “touristy” association of Johannesburg with wild animals (as a gateway to game farms etc.); and one of the largest vibrant and complex cities in Africa and the Southern Hemisphere.

This group exhibition extends on the dualism of the word “zoo”, drawing together artworks that respond to urban and wild animals; the “human zoo” of identity, activity and discourse; human interactions with nature and animals; spaces and sites of control, coercion and contravention; urbanity and nature binaries; human and animal dialectics and amalgams; technology/reason and instinct juxtapositions; the historical context of the zoo as a colonial invention and “benign” theme park that instrumentalises the imperial project of control, and display is also of interest:

‘Their [zoo animals] dependence and isolation have conditioned their responses so that they treat any event that takes place around them – usually it is in front of them, where the public is – as marginal. Hence their assumption of an otherwise exclusively human attitude – indifference.’

‘Everywhere animals disappear. In zoos they constitute the living monument to their own disappearance. And in doing so, they provoke their last metaphor. The Naked Ape, The Human Zoo, are titles of world bestsellers. In these books the zoologist, Desmond Morris, proposes that the unnatural behavior of animals in captivity can help us to understand, accept, and overcome the stresses involved in living in consumer societies”.

‘All sites of enforced marginalisiation – ghettos, shanty towns, prisons, madhouses, concentration camps – have something in common with zoos’

-John Berger, ‘Why Look at animals’, in About Looking (1980).


Wayne Barker, Hannelie Coetzee, Carole Desbois, Bevan de Wet, Germaine de Larch, Gordon Froud, Georgina Gratrix, Sikhumbuzo Makandula, Senzeni Maresela, Rosemarie Marriott, Michele Mathison, Jurgen Meekel, Neil Nieuwoudt, Phumulani Ntuli, Andrea Rolfes, Lauren Schlachter, Hannalie Taute, Ann-Marie Tully, Jessica Webster, Ed Young, Isaac Zevale.

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2012 Oupa Florie (in the old Rissik Street Post Office)
2014 Boiler Room Residency Braamfontein

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