Artwork

Lerato Shadi
Hema (or six hours of outbreath captured in 792 balloons), 2007

‘Hema’ and ‘Mmitlwa’ are Setswana terms (Setswana is one of the eleven official South African languages, and Lerato Shadi’s mother tongue). In her titles, Shadi often uses sayings or terms that allude to her own cultural roots. ‘Hema’ could be translated as a noun ‘breath’—or as an imperative— ‘breathe!.’ It is also the title of a six-hour performance by the artist that took place in an office building in Cape Town in 2007. For the whole six hours, Shadi sat on a pedestal in the stairwell, blowing all the air she took into her lungs into colorful balloons. The way the balloons floated lightly through the stairwell, their bright colors and the seemingly incidental nature of this art event amid the everyday business of an office contrasted starkly with the sheer physical effort of inflating almost 800 balloons without a break. As the venue for this performance, Shadi chose a modern-day working environment, where, ultimately, time (and lifetime) is exchanged for wages. In her performances, the artist often uses readably physical exertion and exhaustion to thematize the passage of time, and she has also succeeded in transferring these aspects to video.

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