‘MOSI KE O NE’(2018) is an HDV 1080P, eleven-minute and fifty-second colour audio film conducted and shot at Villa Romana, Florence. The artist, Lerato Shadi, is a South African, Berlin-based artist. ‘MOSI KE O NE’ begins with Shadi walking through a labyrinth of trees in the Italian countryside. Shadi is poised, dressed in all white, and the camera never reveals her face. She moves effortlessly, and her calm demeanour invites the viewer to follow her—the landscape of Shadi’s work functions as a compelling narrative. ‘MOSI KE O NE’ is filmed outside of the traditional white-cube gallery setting. The landscape demonstrates how our bodies intrinsically connect to the earth.
Shadi continues to walk through the trees. The meditative sounds of a drum circle play in the background. Shadi comes to a stop and drops to her knees as if the drums command her action. Shadi claws her open hands into the earth and begins to dig. The movement of her hands is poetic. She spreads the soil apart from the middle and to the sides. As her hands penetrate the ground, Shadi uncovers a burning pile of ashes. The earth begins to smoke. However, instead of emitting outwards, the smoke is suctioned back into the ground.
The ashes from the fire transform into an open book. Taking one recovered page at a time, Shadi carefully places the contents within her lap, recreating what was buried, burned and lost. The audience is left to contemplate notions of restoration and destruction. “Knowledge is power” is a common proverb. If books carry the contents of knowledge, ‘MOSI KE O NE’ demonstrates how knowledge becomes buried and erased. Familiarity, understanding, and awareness of the aspects that define society and culture represent knowledge. ‘MOSI KE O NE’ shows how knowledge traverses landscapes and is not a privilege but a fundamental human right, meant to be discovered.
Ambiguity riddles throughout ‘MOSI KE O NE’. The landscape is unfamiliar. The audience is left to contemplate what Shadi will uncover within the earth and then further envision the contents of the book. ‘MOSI KE O NE’ allows the viewer to insert individual narratives. Shadi also leaves the title open to interpretation. ‘MOSI KE O NE’ is from a Setswana idiom, Shadi’s native tongue. It refers to the concept: where there is smoke, there is fire. Shadi employs language as a tool that holds a powerful agency within her work. Communication is how we define the rich and diverse aspects of culture and history, allowing us to share experiences.
A language can be a tool that creates a nurturing social space. Within the contemporary art world, there should be scope for not understanding what is presented visually. Art is not always transparent and what makes Shadi’s work powerful is that she provides the audience with a vacant space, allowing the viewer to come to personal conclusions and interpretations about the work. Shadi enables the audience to occupy the space of ambiguity. ‘MOSI KE O NE …’ challenges viewers and punctures individual comfort zones by creating an area that promotes an open and honest conversation about art, history, and erasure.