Nkgopoleng Moloi on Rahima Gambo


Rahima Gambo’s Bird Sound Orientations exhibition used a constellation of organic and inorganic materials to embody reoriented ways of perceiving the world. Drawing on the Nigerian artist’s personal connection to various places and the pathways and forms of connectivity within and between them, the works explored parks, forests and fields – nature in forms both rural and urban. Collages, serigraphs and sculptural installations featured familiar imagery from his past work, including flora, birds and children at play. By arranging found images – including those of coloring book illustrations and textbook pages, as well as feathers, dirt, pieces of wood and sheets of paper – on the wall and floor, Gambo has drew attention to the impact of physical space on human behavior. and emotions. She sparked a heightened awareness of the relationship between one’s own body and other entities to suggest an expanded range of possible human interactions with plants, animals and non-living things: rocks remind us of knowledge beneath our feet, while trees and shrubs act as navigational landmarks. tools, marking the place and facilitating orientation. Works like drawing collage Observe palm trees in Johannesburg2022, maps the city through its ecology, connecting the artist to place through plant life as previous works have connected her to the Nigerian landscapes of Abuja, Lagos and Maiduguri.

Gambo collaborates with a group of students in Maiduguri, northeast Nigeria, on various projects, using materials such as their own voices and bodies, fabric, slates, chalk and even a mattress, to make discoveries and inventions. single channel video Tatsuniya II, 2019, shows a group of seven girls engaging in various forms of play – drawing, singing and jumping – intercut with nervous laughter, gentle instructions for each other and the murmur of breath as they run, clap, jump and fall. Some of their games involve gliding and flapping bird movements. By observing these gestures, we hear the sound of birds in the field. Games require interpersonal skills as well as trust in other players; in one game, the group forms a semi-circle and one participant bends down and falls as the others catch up to her. With each iteration, the falling player exudes more energy, adding more momentum to the girls’ collective movement. The game becomes a tool that opens up different ways of understanding complexity and approaching learning.

Aerial instruments, 2021, is a single channel video of a person walking through a field. Unstable camera movements captured from the subject’s perspective are disorienting. The walker stretches a bronze hoop until it frames the sun. The cries of birds, the bleating of goats and the creaking of footsteps on a gravel road are superimposed on the sound of a Fulani flute, while the graceful pipework of this diatonic wind instrument draws us deeper into its rhythm. In the following shots, the hoop is variously replaced by an arc, a triangle and a right angle – geometry as a language of symbols. These same geometric elements are found in the artist’s clay, earth and copper sculptural installations, through which she approaches spatial markers as a form of communication.

Although all sorts of geometric forms appear in Gambo’s work, for her the story of movement and territory seems to be best understood through curves – whether it is the circular trajectory of a line on a sheet of paper, globes connected by arrows on a grid, the winding of a bird’s nest or young girls twirling on a playground. These symbols, movements and gestures represent essential sensory information for orienting oneself in the world.


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