thebe phetogo 

blackbody Rogues' Gallery 

13 november 2021 - 02 january 2022

Washington DC: von ammon co is pleased to announce its fourteenth project at 3330 Cady’s Alley, blackbody Rogues’ Gallery, a solo show by Botswana-based artist Thebe Phetogo. 

A continuation of Phetogo’s blackbody series of exhibitions, each painting in Rogues' Gallery employs a null backdrop: either the acid-green of a soundstage or the checkerboard of a transparent digital image. This painterly manifestation of a digital void is where Phetogo arranges disembodied segments of post-colonial African historical subjects. Mostly ensconced within an acid-green field, these figures appear on the brink of aqueous dissolution or oblivion. Vestiges of bodies—both central and peripheral—appear in modeled shades of green, and allude to a history that has just expired and remains only as an afterimage. The artist’s use of modeled shoe polish to articulate faces and limbs alludes to the cross-cultural history of blackface, which happens to reside both within American (the minstrel show) and African (The Concert Party) ritual tradition. As a corollary to the green screen, Phetogo’s blackbody figures are embodiments of concealment and disappearance. 

Phetogo’s allegorical band of subjects toggle between the political and the mystic, the benevolent and malign, the dominant and the oppressed. A real Tswana historical figure such as Mmanthatisi takes on the attributes of a female deity, evoking majesty and luridness simultaneously; inversely, a figure of folklore such as Mmamashia—the night seducer who lures drivers to car wreck—appears as a contemporary revolutionary in sunglasses and head garb. The hacking of discourse throughout the exhibition can be as subtle as sartorial adjustments: a portrait of activist Roy Sesana adorns the radical in resplendent leopard pelts, the most common marker of conservative government in Botswana. A rogues’ gallery is typically associated with the collection of photographs in detective offices that represents prime suspects; in comic books, the term refers to the cast of villains and deviants often used as foils in superhero stories. In the context of postcolonial Sub-Saharan Africa, myth and reality often cross-pollinate: the impartial and often unjust levers of historical discourse have distorted real figures into chimerae and mythical beings inhabit the bodies of historical subjects. blackbody Rogues’ Gallery continues Phetogo’s examination of the blackbody—the free-radical, removable, discontinuous subject of Setswana history, both specific and general—but through the perspective of the historical genre painting. 

Thebe Phetogo (b. 1993, Serowe, Botswana) is a painter based in Gaborone, Botswana. He earned a Postgraduate Diploma in Fine Art and a Masters in Fine Art from the University of Cape Town, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Media Studies from the University of Botswana. He has exhibited widely in Nigeria, South Africa and Botswana. blackbody Rogues’ Gallery marks Phetogo’s first solo exhibition in Washington DC and with von ammon co. 

von ammon co would like to thank Julie Taylor and Guns & Rain for their ongoing support and involvement in this exhibition. 

von ammon co is a contemporary art gallery based in Georgetown, Washington DC and founded in 2019. One of the only privately-run contemporary art spaces in the US capitol, the gallery’s agenda is to exhibit important projects by international artists. blackbody Rogues’ Gallery is the eleventh project in its current location. The gallery is open Friday through Sunday, 12pm to 6pm and by appointment. Please email info@vonammon.co for additional information. 

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