Nicola Roos

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No Man’s Land, 2015 – present
Since discovering the medium in early 2015, I have primarily been working in life-size figurative sculptural installations constructed out of recycled rubber tyre tubing. I investigate the origins of civilization and society, as well as the ever-changing politics of national identity, collective memory and cultural belonging in the postcolonial world.
The point of reference for my 2015 debut installation at the University of Cape Town’s Michaelis School of Fine Art, No Man’s Land, was the only dark-skinned Samurai ever written into recorded history: a man of African descent, known only by the name of Yasuke (pronounced yas-keh), who was taken from his homeland and came to serve under an influential daimyō (feudal lord) in late 16th century Japan. His legacy of cross-cultural exchange shifted the focus to a new world state of ethnographic modernity and the transient fixity of culture and tradition. My interest in colonial history and the commemoration of abstruse individuals was sparked by the little-known narrative of Yasuke and the myriad of socio-cultural implications that ripple outwards from this remarkable man in Africa and abroad.
In The Risk Society and Beyond: Critical Issues for Social Theory (2000), Beck, Joost and Adam (2000:42) argue that the Western concept of high/low, grid/group distinctions, that were previously used in the analysis and classification of societies, cannot be mapped onto actually existing societies in a straightforward way any longer. Cultural change, in response to socio-economical, historical or political forces, reflects better knowledge of alternative cultures and such knowledge leads to cultural mergers: new syntheses in languages, religion, and other domains. Thus it can be said that, above all, the majority of cultures today exhibit transient fixity. This is often referred to as individualism-collectivism – a new form of consciousness transforming the global cultural experience today.
In The Pure Products Go Crazy, author James Clifford offers a poem by William Carlos Williams about a housekeeper “Elsie”. This girl is of mixed blood – with a divided common ancestry – and no real collective roots to trace. In the poem, Williams observes that this is the direction that the world is moving in, as Clifford then states —“an inevitable momentum.” Clifford is of the subsequent belief that, “in an inter-connected world, culture is always to varying degrees, ‘inauthentic.’” These so-called “impure” cultures have conflicted with the forces of ‘progress’ and ‘national’ unification. This has led to “many traditions, languages, cosmologies, and values [being] lost, some literally murdered”. The argument here is that, inevitably, all cultures either will, or have experienced this, and in the end have transformed into an alternate version (or versions) of themselves.
This predicament has come to be called ethnographic modernity: ethnographic because Williams (like us) finds himself unbalanced among dispersed traditions; modernity, since the state of rootlessness and continuous motion he meets has become an increasingly common fate. “Elsie” simultaneously represents an indigenous cultural cessation and a shared future. To Williams, her story is inescapably both his own and everyone’s: accepting this inter-connectivity is not the same as accepting cultural decline into a nightmare of syncretic circumstances.
My work suggests that this shifting state of culture and the resulting sense of alienation is so much more apparent at the dawn of what curator/author Okwui Enwezor terms post-Westernism – a possibly threatening, unstable no man’s land that we find ourselves in today. However, my characters – like the various articulations of Yasuke that form the basis of my exploration into this segment of the past – are no longer individuals, but rather elements of an imagined realm beyond official history. They are the embodiment of a local cultural breakdown and a communal future where beliefs, assumptions and knowledge about place and culture can be deconstructed and re-negotiated.

2016 BA Fine Arts Graduate (Sculpture Major) Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town, South Africa
2015: Accepted into the Faculty of Humanities Dean’s List for exceptional academic performance 2016: Co-awarded the Simon Gerson Prize for producing an exceptional body of work 2016: Winner of the Michaelis Prize for achieving 95% for Studio Work 2016: Re-accepted into the Faculty of Humanities Dean’s List for exceptional academic performance
2020: Kurobozu (Dark Stranger), Evergold Projects, San Francisco, USA.
2020: Abantu (The People), Dyman Gallery, Stellenbosch, South Africa
2018: Defying the Narrative: Contemporary Art from Southern and West Africa, Evergold Projects, San Francisco, USA.
2018: Right at the Equator, Depart Foundation, Malibu Village, California, USA
2017: Recent Acquisitions, University of South Africa (UNISA) Art Gallery, UNISA Main Campus (Kgorong Building), Tshwane, South Africa
2017: Black and White, Absolut Art Gallery, Stellenbosch, South Africa
2017: Turbine Art Fair, Turbine Hall, Johannesburg, South Africa
2017: Michaelis Graduate Exhibition, Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
2017: Cape Town Art Fair, Cape Town International Convention Centre, South Africa
2016: Cape Town Art Fair, Cape Town International Convention Centre, South Africa
2016: On Photography, Painting and Sculpture, Erdmann Contemporary, Cape Town, South Africa
2015: Form and Substance, Erdmann Contemporary, Cape Town, South Africa
Private Collections
Ard Voorman (Rijn, Netherlands)
Grizelda Hall (Cape Town, South Africa)
Arnold Lehman (New York, USA)
David Altman/Stefan Simchowitz (California, USA)
Zoot Nel (Tallinn, Estonia)
Nuno Lima (Maputo, Mozambique)
Oscar Pintado-Barragan (Mexico City, Mexico)
Public Collections
University of South Africa (Tshwane, South Africa)
Corporate Collections
Sovereign Trust Group (Cape Town, South Africa)
ICM Partners (Los Angeles, USA)
KT Wong Foundation (Cape Town, South Africa)