Born 1986 in Zvishavane, Zimbabwe Lives and works in Cape Town, South Africa

Gerald Machona’s multifaceted artistic practice spans a diverse range of mediums, including sculpture, video, photography, performance and installation. By creating characters that reference ‘Nyau’, forms of ritual dance incorporating masks originating in the Chewa villages of central Malawi, Machona explores performance as a means of arbitration and communication, providing insight into cultural identity and challenging intolerance. His innovative use of decommissioned currency as a key material enables the artist to examine the impact and significance of historical migration on the African continent, linking the events of the past with contemporary issues of diasporic migration, xenophobic intolerance and violence in South Africa.

Machona’s installation of sculptural and video works explores the process of alienation and foreignness within concepts of ‘nations’, ‘nationalisms,’ and ‘citizenry’[1]. The artist draws from his experiences of the Zimbabwean diaspora and now, living in South Africa, focuses on complicating notions of individual and collective identity. In 2008, he witnessed what he calls the ‘Afro-centric nature’ of xenophobic violent attacks occurring in South Africa at the time. This violence was in reaction to mass African (and particularly Zimbabwean) migration, itself caused in part by the hyperinflationary Zimbabwean economy that has so impacted Machona’s life and which continues to influence his work.

The artist’s latest sculptural personas are presented in the form of monetary space suits: Ndiri Afronaut (I am an Afronaut) and Uri Afronaut, both from 2012. The suits are meticulously sewn from decommissioned currencies including Zimbabwean dollar notes and old South African rand, and are documents of past performances by the artist. Animating his suits and personas in the video work Vabvakure (People from Far Away), 2012, the artist explores the transition from the familiar to the alien and the conflicting perspectives of what comprises each, for both the characters and the viewer. Together with Flagging the Nation, 2012 – a currency-stitched flag planted precariously in a pile of sand – the installation sets a pointed agenda for negotiating xenophobia through the cultural aesthetic of Afrofuturism. Relating the experience of migration to space exploration, Machona highlights the unevenly distributed titular rights distinguishing expatriate from migrant, the familiar from the alien.

Halted circulation of decommissioned currency, bereft of value, parallels the status of the contemporary legal alien not only in South Africa but globally. For the artist, national identities converge with monetary value, imposing a price and an arbitrary economic hierarchy upon human lives and their movement across borders. By using both monetary and visual–performative currencies, Machona elaborates a conceptual investigation of identity values within a broader economy of forced expatriation due to political, economic and racial oppression.

[1] Gerald Machona, Artist’s Statement, ‘Gerald Machona/Vabvakure (People from Far Away)/2014’, Goodman Gallery,