siemon allen

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Land of Black Gold 1
poster, deutsche+guggenheim, berlin, 2012


Deutsche + Guggenheim, Berlin, 2012

curated by Nat Trotman
January 1 - April 9, 2012

In our globalized world, with political, economic, and social issues intertwined across national boundaries, translation has become a fundamental tool, both linguistically and more figuratively, in making sense of reality. Taking this concept as a model and a metaphor, Found in Translation brings together recent works that investigate the ways cultural difference is negotiated through written or spoken text. Through videos, installations, photography, and other media the artists in this exhibition explore intersections of language, politics, history, and fantasy, critically commenting on the past while producing richly imagined possibilities for the present.

For the exhibition Found in Translation, the German Guggenheim in Berlin has selected nine artists whose works are concerned with language and with the translation of one language into another, of the past into the present, and of reality into art. Represented are Siemon Allen, Alejandro Cesarco, Patty Chang, Keren Cytter, Brendan Fernandes, Sharon Hayes, Matt Keegan, Lisa Oppenheim and O Zhang.

Land of Black Gold II, 2004

labels (cape), goodman gallery, 2011

labels (cape), goodman gallery, 2011

Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, 2011

September 17 - October 22, 2011

For his first solo show in Cape Town at Goodman Gallery, Allen will present Labels – an architectural site-responsive installation – as well as a new series of prints sourced from the audio archive. Labels functions as an historical record, a chronological discography of select labels from Allen’s archive. It is also a kind of visual memorial to South Africa’s rich musical past in that each label represents an individual recording, paying homage to that past visually by naming every artist in the archive. Some names and recordings are well known, but many more are now forgotten. Though Allen’s curtain is more celebratory than somber, like Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C, the sheer accumulation of ‘the individual’ transforms the collective into the monumental.

Labels is a site-responsive, architectural installation, a 38 metre long, semi-transparent curtain wall supporting a staggered grid of over 5400 unique images that form a large accessible circular enclosure. Operating as an architectural intervention in the gallery, the work forms a curving gridded wall that meanders through the space. With Labels Allen revisits a theme that has been dominant in his work for many years: the idea of a “space within a space”. The exterior surface of the curtain wall reads as a clean, almost minimalist abstract grid, while the interior becomes a colorful complex pattern of disc shapes with text and markings. Up close one is able to digest the details on each individual label. From afar the textual information begins to lose focus and recede, to be replaced by a tapestry-like colour-field pattern.

label (venice), 54th venice biennale, 2011

DESIRE - Ideal Narratives in Contemporary South African Art
Pavilion of South Africa, 54th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy, 2011

curated by Thembinkosi Goniwe
May 1 - November 27, 2011

Desire: Ideal Narratives in Contemporary South Africa Art marks the democratic South Africa’s debut in the 54th Venice Biennale. Since her ascent to the membership of nations with constitutional democracies, South Africa has emerged as a symbol of how best to usher in freedom from the ashes of bondage. Desire features the work of three South African artists, Siemon Allen, Lyndi Sales and Mary Sibande, who all richly explore a range of realities, memories and fantasies. They produce imaginary truths or rather ideal narratives that reflect on South Africa, and how this democratic country has successfully transcended its past history to foster human values of equality, respect and dignity.

In these artist’s works, post-apartheid South Africa is a site to explore ideals of beauty, pleasure, democracy, and freedom. Whether working inside or outside of South Africa, these artists explore conditions that give rise to lack of and longing for personal and societal freedom: to desire.



makeba!, krannert museum, 2011


Krannert Museum, Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, 2011

curated by Tumelo Mosaka
August 26 - December 30, 2011

South African singer Miriam Makeba also known as Mama Africa, popularized Africa music around the globe long before the phrase “world music” was coined. Her musical style fused American Jazz with African sounds to create a new musical language that explored the black South African experience under apartheid. Artist Siemon Allen has collected recordings by Makeba along with artifacts from the larger history of South African music. Given that her outspoken critique against apartheid, forced her into 30yrs of exile, Makeba dedicated her life and music to the struggle against apartheid. The exhibition explores the global movements of Makeba’s music and image while mapping the political landscape of South Africa under apartheid.


flatinternational website, 2010


September, 2010

In September of 2010, the website was launched featuring the South African Audio Archive, a non-profit project developed by Siemon Allen. This website is dedicated to establishing a visual archive of rare and sometimes unusual South African audio documents as artifacts.

The aim of the project is to provide a searchable database as a resource for those researching South African audio history. This database is by no means exhaustive—these are still early days. But data will accumulate in time and hopefully this archive will provide researchers with valuable information currently unavailable on the web, such as discographies of many lesser known South African artists, labels, and companies.

Over the last few years a number of great websites dedicated to South African music have emerged including Matsuli, Electric Jive, flatint, 3rd Ear Music,, SAMAP and ILAM, amongst others. In January 2011, Allen joined the team at Electric Jive as a contributor and posts there monthly about South African music.


makeba!, anderson gallery, 2010

newspapers (wc), anderson galley, 2010

stamps v, anderson gallery, 2010

screen ii, anderson gallery, 2010


IMAGING SOUTH AFRICA: Collection Projects by Siemon Allen
Anderson Gallery, Richmond, VA, 2010

curated by Ashley Kistler
August 27 - October 31, 2010

Spanning all three floors of the gallery, this exhibition offered the most comprehensive presentation to date of South African artist Siemon Allen’s “collection projects.” Over the last decade, Allen has created expansive installations of various mass-produced ephemera—postal stamps, newspapers, audio recordings—that he has methodically acquired and catalogued. In terms of process, he approaches each project like an archivist, researching and assembling artifacts to disclose underlying narratives about their production, dissemination, use, and message. Allen employs the social critique that inevitably arises from his work as a means of interrogating what he describes as “the contradictory and complex nature of South African identity.”

In Stamps, a massive inventory of over 50,000 stamps released in his native country from the colonial era to the present, Allen probes the official construction of an idealized national identity often at odds with social realities. In Newspaper, begun in 2001 as a research project documenting coverage of the United Nations Racism Conference in Durban, he examines another image of South Africa, but one constructed externally through the filter of the US news media.

With Records, the most recent addition to the series, Allen has built an extensive ongoing collection of South African music and audio artifacts, with the intention of establishing a web-based archive of this material, [now online at]. The exhibition will also feature a room-sized architectural structure of woven videotape that he considers a precursor to his collection-based installations.

Allen began assembling Records three years ago when he purchased a 1965 record by the exiled South African singer Miriam Makeba. Struck by the overtly political nature of the album cover’s liner notes, he began to investigate how these artifacts disseminated an anti-apartheid message. Allen has now acquired over 400 recordings by Makeba that reveal the global reach of her image and music. This project is only one part of a much larger collection of South African audio material. Allen will also show a new series of monumental prints created from scans of individual records culled from his larger collection. When magnified in images nearly seven feet square, their distressed, topographic vinyl surfaces visually capture veritable histories of repeated use


mirian make ba , vmfa, 2010


presented in conjunction with the exhibit

DARKROOM: Photography and New Media in South Africa

Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Richmond, VA, 2010

curated by Tosha Grantham
August 21 - October 24, 2010

This ground-breaking exhibition featured the work of 18 photographers and video artists who have lived and worked in South Africa, both during the apartheid era (1948–94) and beyond. Darkroom was presented by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in conjunction with the Visual Arts Center of Richmond. A companion exhibition Imaging South Africa by contemporary South African artist Siemon Allen was presented at the Anderson Gallery at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Tosha Grantham the curator of Darkrooms invited Allen to show Miriam Make Ba(a large 78" x 78" print of a red vinyl record) at the entrance to the exhibition as a way to tie the two companion shows together.


records, jaf, johannesburg, 2010

records, jaf, johannesburg, 2010

(South African Edition)

Johannesburg Art Fair, South Africa, 2010

Presented by the gordonschachatcollection.
March 26 - 28, 2010

After exhibiting three of the large Records prints at the BANK Gallery in Durban in 2009, Allen was commissioned by the gordonschachatcollection to extend the series to twelve prints. This set was printed in an edition of 2 + 1 Artist Proof and Allen was invited by the GSC to present the "South African Edition" at the 2010 Johannesburg Art Fair as the featured artist.

The record prints are scanned selections from the artist's extensive collection of South African audio consisting of over 2000 items including 650 rare shellac discs. Another component of this project includes a searchable, web-based, visual archive of the collection which can be viewed at

The twelve large-format prints (200 x 200 x 5cm) are printed with Epson HDR ink on Hahnemühle Museum Etching Fine Art Paper. The scans of the records produce remarkable detail capturing not only the grooves but also the accumulated historic traces of scratches and damage that speak to the memory of the object. It is significant that though these prints are considered by Allen to be part of his audio collection and speak to the primacy of music in South African cultural history, they are silent.


better, bank gallery, 2009

makeba!, bank gallery, 2009

stamp collection, durban art gallery, 2009

newspapers, durban art gallery, 2009

Large Prints
large prints, bank gallery, 2009

labels from makeba!, bank gallery, 2009

newspapers, durban art gallery, 2009


BANK Gallery, Durban, South Africa, 2009

Durban Art Gallery, Durban, South Africa, 2009

BANK, March 3 - April 16, 2009
DAG, March 8 - April 26, 2009

Imaging South Africa: Records|Newspapers|Stamps features three concurrent installations at BANK Gallery and the Durban Art Gallery

For the past eight years Siemon Allen, who is currently based in the United States, has been exploring the image of South Africa through a series of collection projects. Operating from what is essentially an external vantage point, Allen systematically accumulates mass-produced printed material, which he ultimately catalogues and displays. His process is not unlike that of an archivist, each collected item bringing with it a narrative particular to the nature of that artifact’s production, dissemination, and use.
In Stamps, Allen explores the political history of South Africa through the cataloging and display of postal stamps produced in the country from the beginning of the South African Union in 1910 to the present. Over 23,000 stamps will be on display in the project room of the Durban Art Gallery, configured to both operate as historical record and to reference grid field painting. The stamp collection is a kind of autobiography of a nation and says much about how that nation seeks to construct an identity for itself.  The stamps tell the story of the changing face of South Africa, revealing how a country, over time, has chosen to represent itself both within its borders and internationally. It is a fragmented narration that speaks not only through what is shown but also through what is not.

Newspapers, presents another image of South Africa, one that is constructed externally through the foreign press. Begun in 2001 as a research project documenting U.S. coverage of the 2001 United Nations Racism Conference in Durban, Newspapers has since evolved through the same comprehensive and methodical processes that are characteristic of all Allen's collection projects. This particular project also brings to light other questions and concerns regarding the news media, including how coverage defines the importance given to a place, and how the nature of that coverage perpetuates or dispels limited or stereotypical notions of that place.

Newspapers on show in the circular gallery at DAG will bring together for the first time all of Allen’s newspaper collections including The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The Des Moines register, and The St. Louis Post Dispatch. Furthermore the display will feature a new version of The New York Times, specifically collected for this exhibition, with recent coverage of South Africa beginning with Jacob Zuma’s ascendance to the ANC leadership in December of 2007.

Records, the third and most recent work in the Imaging South Africa series, is comprised of several smaller collections. For Records, Allen has been building a massive collection of South African audio artifacts, with the intention of establishing a searchable, web-based archive of the material. This project is due to go online sometime in 2009.

At BANK Allen will present a part of the Records project—its original starting point - a comprehensive collection of recordings by Miriam Makeba. This collection consists of over 400 individually acquired recordings in multiple formats by the late, internationally recognized, South African singer who recently passed away. The roots of the collection began three years ago when Allen purchased a used Makeba LP dating from 1965 in Richmond, Virginia. Reading the liner notes on the back, he was struck by the political nature of the text and began to reflect upon how these mass-produced, commercial items might have operated in the dissemination of an anti-apartheid message.

Allen expanded the Makeba collection with the goal of exploring how these artifacts, through covers and liner notes, presented to an international audience an image of South Africa that differed from that promoted by the Government of the time. Makeba’s widely disseminated iconic visage and message were significant in that she was an icon in the age of mass-media carrying an oppositional ‘image of South Africa’ to the world.

In addition to the Makeba! installation, Allen will also show a series of large prints, a new body of work derived from the larger record archive, at BANK Gallery.

[Text from the press release]

birds, johannesburg art gallery, 2008

birds, johannesburg art gallery, 2008




Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2008

curated by Clive Kellner & Maria Fidel Regueros
October 26, 2008 - March 1, 2009
with Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Siemon Allen, Bodil Furu, Veli Grano, Marja Helander, Nicholas Hloba, Astrid Kruse Jensen, Alastair McLachlan, Nandipha Mntambo, Anthea Moys, Mika Ronkainen, Athi Patra-Ruga, Maia Urstad, James Webb

The selected artists and their works examine the relationship Nordic and South African artists have to notions of identity and place, by focussing on elements as psychosis, consumption, beauty and hope. The exhibition has used the contemporary mediums of sound, performance, photography and video installations as a way of mediating on the above.

[Text from the invitation ]

Cards EF Bush
cards (enduring freedom), detail, 2003

t.error—your fear is an external object
Kunsthalle, Budapest, Hungary, 2008
Hungarian Cultural Center, New York, NY, 2009

curated by Attila Hetesi, Aniko Erdosi
September 10 - October 15, 2008
February 20 - May 2, 2009
with Siemon Allen, Francois Bucher, Rainer Ganahl, Alia Hassan-Khan, Ayoung Kim, Pia Lindman, Andrea Schneemeier, Jari Silomaki, Xaviera Simmons, Zsolt Vasarhelyi, Bryan Zanisnik

Through works by artist from diverse social contexts, the exhibition t.error focuses on the psychological effects of the violence and terror that comes to dominate more and more the media and our daily life. Testing the boundaries between the clichéd image of human violence as mediated by the camera, on the one hand, and its contemporary forms and mental impacts on the other, the exhibition explores the “gray zone” between the constructed and imaginary notions of terror, its mediated image and our real fears.

Since 9/11 it has been discussed in several contexts how violence represented by the media influences our real and fictitious sense of fear, in societies whose outlook today is global. Examining the power and flexibility of the camera mediated image, the exhibition concentrates on the perception and interpretation of violence and terror filtered through media, and explores to what extent we identify with, or remain resistant to, it. The featured artworks highlight those characteristics of the human condition today that are generated by mediated images of cruelty: fear, paranoia and frustration. They point out that our senses of mental security and social identity are more affected by the image of terror than by any other kind of images in the global media environment. The refined and complex modes of artistic representation echo the characteristics of a more and more intricate and vulnerable society.

The seventeen international artistic positions provide a view of how contemporary artists are dealing with, and relate to, the image of violence in the world of spectacle. Through their works, the exhibition reveals the current correlations between violence, fear and spectacle and challenges our awareness of these by investigating the definition of terror appropriated and alienated by current politics.

[Text from the press release for the New York show]

birds, goodman cape, south africa, 2008

birds, goodman cape, south africa, 2008

birds, goodman cape, south africa, 2008


Goodman Gallery Cape, Cape Town, South Africa, 2008

curated by Storm Janse van Rensburg
August 7 - September 6, 2008
Siemon Allen, Ryan Arenson, Joanne Bloch, David Koloane and Arie Kuijers

The exhibition Monomania brings together works by five artists, Siemon Allen, Ryan Arenson, Joanne Bloch, David Koloane and Arie Kuijers, who work particularly intently with their chosen subject matter and/or materials. The act of collecting, ordering, archiving and repetition is an integral consideration in their practice. The term monomania originated in the early nineteenth century, and is also referred to as idée fixe, originally used to describe obsessive compulsive behaviour.

More recently art historian and philosopher Marina van Zuylen revived the term 'Monomania' to explore the curative and therapeutic attributes of single-minded, repetitive behaviours and practices of artists. These indefinitely repetitive actions also subvert expectations – instead of ‘numbing down’, a deepening and intensity of meaning occurs.

Siemon Allen, a South African artist based in the USA, presents The Birds, a large woven panel consisting of found 16mm film. Allen’s practice is largely based on selective collecting of published material, which often accumulates for many years before being realized in large-scale installation. These archives are compiled by the artist through online auction sites, trawling second hand shops and specialist dealers.

[Text from the press release]