Serge Alain Nitegeka

Serge Alain Nitegeka (b. 1983, Burundi) lives and works in Johannesburg. His installations and sculptures are framed as functional objects given purpose by the actions performed in, on, or around them. In his installations the spectator becomes the performer – becomes a part of the work and completes it by acting out an experience or constructing a new one. Nitegeka’s vision for sculpture is that it has to be something physically experienced and confronted, not just looked at. He has held solo exhibitions at Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York (2014); Stevenson , Cape Town and Johannesburg (2013, 2012, 2009); and Le Manège Gallery – French Institute, Dakar (2012). Recent group exhibitions include: the 56th Venice Biennale (2015); Venturing Out of the Heart of Darkness, the Harvey B. Gantt Center, North Carolina (2015); Nouvelles vagues, Palais De Tokyo, Paris (2013); My Joburg, La Maison Rouge, Paris and Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden (2013); and The Space Between Us, ifa Galleries, Berlin (2013). Nitegeka was awarded the Tollman Award for Visual Arts and won a Fondation Jean Paul Blachère prize at the Dakar Biennale in 2010.

100 STOOLS, 2011
Sculpture (100 wood stools), 40 x 20 x 31 cm each
Courtesy of the artist and STEVENSON, Cape Town/Johannesburg.

The House of Words (HoW) pavilion holds Serge Alain Nitegeka’s installation 100 STOOLS, which provides places for all hosts, storytellers, and audience members to sit while participating. Nitegeka conceived this project in response to his experiences as an asylum seeker during the waiting hours at the Refugee Reception Center in Pretoria, South Africa, in 2011. 100 STOOLS emerged from the artist’s attempt to restore a sense of self-dignity and create a space of hospitality for migrants.

My practice often addresses the manner in which refugees and asylum seekers deal with found space through fundamental primal and survival strategies that are ambiguously harmonious, conflicting, haphazard, calculated, and spontaneous. These strategies dictate the use of available spaces that are negotiated on the lines of efficiency and necessity. Furthermore, this way of thinking and dealing with space demonstrates powers acquired on-the-spot, a “making-do” attitude, and site-specific problem-solving approaches born out of necessity for survival. This transformation of space represents the conventional imagery of refugees seeking shelter in stadiums, community halls, schools, and churches that the world has grown accustomed to through media images. The manner in which refugees and asylum seekers handle space often relies on strategies that can be described as haphazard and spontaneous, and yet as improvised negotiations they can be effective and efficient. I am fascinated by the mechanics of fleeing – how people behave and how they deal with the resulting chaos. 

Within HoW, Nitegeka’s 100 STOOLS addresses its original aim by providing a context in which people can gather together in a space of hospitality, pride, and dialogue.


100 STOOLS, 2011, Installation view Röda Sten Konsthall, GIBCA 2015. Photo: Hendrik Zeitler