Courage is as Contagious as Fear

Norval Foundation, Cape Town, 2020
Role: Curator

Courage is as Contagious as Fear: Selected Works from the Hoosein Mahomed Collection is part of Norval Foundation’s ongoing Collector’s Focus series of exhibitions and talks highlighting the divergent ways collections of visual art and design are assembled, managed, understood and engaged with by audiences. Initiated by the Foundation’s Founding CEO, Elana Brundyn, this series draws upon a broad range of local, national and international collections, owned by private individuals, corporate entities and public institutions, to consider the impact of these collections on the practice of collecting and, more broadly, in shaping culture.

Courage is as Contagious as Fear presents a selection of works from the collection of entrepreneur and attorney Hoosein Mahomed. Beginning with his first acquisition in 2007, Mahomed has established himself as a collector by acquiring works by prominent mid-career and established contemporary South African artists, as well as supporting younger artists at the beginning of their careers. Mahomed finds the acquisition process to be an acutely personal exercise, noting, “I think it’s not so much about collecting objects. It’s really about collecting memories. And it starts as one delves very deeply within the individual self, in order to begin the process of relearning and unlearning oneself through images”.

Mahomed’s collection is deeply connected to his personal experiences of growing up in a divided South Africa and the changing ways that identity politics have been investigated in the visual arts. A distinct shift has taken place since the mid-2010s, with a dissatisfaction and challenge to the status quo being led by younger South Africans, and Mahomed’s collection is reflective of this shift. He uses collecting as a process of exploring the multiplicity of individual as well as collective experience. This selection, made with input from the collector, highlights artworks that challenge society’s norms around sexual identity, queer culture, the church and state, race, class, moral expectations, and the osmosis of power and oppression. Mahomed has been acquiring works by artists who challenge preconceived or assumed conceptions of identity, as a celebration of their existence. From matrimony to bondage, fear to courage, celebration to assimilation, we are provided with a glimpse into the self-understanding of a mutable – but nonetheless triumphant – South African experience.

ABOVE: Photography by Michael Hall, Cape Town. Courtesy of Norval Foundation.
BELOW: Photography by Mark Cullinan, Cape Town. Courtesy of Norval Foundation.

The title is taken from Susan Sontag’s Óscar Romero Award Keynote Address, ‘On Courage and Resistance’, which took place at the Rothko Chapel (Houston, USA) on March 30th, 2003. Artists featured: Jody Brand, Reshma Chhiba, Kudzanai Chiurai, Steven Cohen, David Goldblatt, Donna Kukama, Moshekwa Langa, Gerald Machona, Turiya Magadlela, Esther Mahlangu, Nandipha Mntambo, Zanele Muholi, Asemahle Ntlonti, Athi-Patra Ruga, Cinga Samson, Berni Searle, Johannes Segogela and Brett Seiler.