What I Have Been Reading

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The first duty of the novelist is to entertain. It is a moral duty. People who read your books are sick, sad, traveling, in the hospital waiting room while someone is dying. Books are written by the alone for the alone.

—           Donna Tartt

I open my latest post with this quote from the author of that wonderful book, The Secret History. I really love this quote, particularly this bit: books are written by the alone for the alone. Now most people would view the use of the word alone in a negative context, lonely, isolated, insular (suggestive of an island and separated from others). Not me, I discovered the relationship between loneliness and creative vitality a long time ago. Like that most gifted writer, Virginia Woolf, I have found that lonely silence is inseparable from creative impulse. Adrienne Rich agrees, claiming that “the impulse to create begins — often terribly and fearfully — in a tunnel of silence,”

the secret history

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But I digress because my actual point was to wax lyrical about the joys of reading, not of being alone…although I kind of love both.

I believe that one of the most amazing gifts you can give anyone is to pass on the joy of reading, to teach them how to read purely for pleasure. I myself am a voracious reader and a huge bibliophile. Yes! I consume books, I luxuriate in them! And I am unashamedly old school about it. I want the physical, the tactile, the actual book, not some glowing kindle screen!

library

In my apartment I have a library that I am really proud of. It contains mostly academic books now, focusing on art and art theory. This is due to the demands of my studies and lecturing duties.  But you can also find Tom Robbins Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas or Alice Sebold and her Lovely Bones amongst them. Carlos Ruiz Zafón and his Cemetery of Forgotten Books share shelves with Francesca Woodman’s ghostly portraits while Ana Mendieta and her Blood Works are pressed up against Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the DayI even still have my old copies of Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye and Goodbye Columbus from way back when I was a teenager. I love my books.  One of my greatest pleasures is to hang out in second bookstores on a rainy day. To be surrounded by shelves of old (and new) books is something I will never tire of. For me it is an almost-embryonic sensation, as if being embraced and enveloped by dear friends. I am at peace and yet simultaneously filled with anticipation and excitement at the thought of all the wonders that await to be discovered within the covers and on the pages.

the rites

So what have I read recently and what am I reading now?

I generally have 3 or 4 books that I am reading at one time. As I am doing my Master’s at the moment and this requires a massive amount of research reading, so there will always be at least one book related to my research next to my bed. I have just completed The Rites of Men: Manhood, Politics, and the Culture of Sport by Varda Burstyn. In this fascinating book Burstyn analyzes how sport socializes boys into manhood by providing rituals of conquest and aggression. I played rugby from the age of 13 up until I was 36 so I really found it amazing to be able to relate my actual experiences to the theoretical thinking behind sports like rugby football. Kind of like how I felt when I began my journey as academic within the art world. Relating the thinking to the making is glorious.

 

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At the moment I am reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. I highly recommend reading this author’s work, especially The Remains of the Day. I have to sheepishly admit something though. I actually watched the movie based on the book first. To be honest the title left me cold and still does. It is a really lame title for such a beautiful piece of writing. Anyway, so I never read the book. But once I had watched the film-adaption I really just had to read it. It is a quite stunning movie and a very British . Ironically it is directed by an American though.

the beach

Alex Garland, who wrote another one of my favourite books, The Beach, is friends with Ishiguro and wrote the screenplay for the movie. It stars Carey Mulligan (love her), Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley as friends Kathy, Tommy and Ruth who grow up together in a seemingly idyllic boarding school situated in the English countryside. The story, however, is set in an alternate history where cloning has become every day and is socially and morally accepted. I do not want to spoil the movie or the book for you so I will not reveal any more of the plot suffice to say that both are totally engrossing, thought-provoking and just beautiful. Both have a place on swany’s list of awesomeness!

 

 

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To end off I am going to reference my 2 previous posts which dealt with rape. A book that deals with the subject very honestly is Alice Sebold’s Lucky. It is an autobiographical account of her rape at the age of eighteen while at university. She describes what she was like before the rape and the aftermath of this harrowing, life-changing event. Her description of the actual rape is heartrending. It is a must-read.

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Living Art

So in my previous post I shared some of the artwork I created for a fundraising auction for the rape victims support group called GRIP. Dealing with such a horrific theme set me thinking about this whole culture of rape and how it is possible for a person to do such a thing. It is just terrible that the thing men fear the most about being incarcerated is what women have to deal with every day of their lives: the possibility of being raped.
Here are some things you should know:
When Interpol released the staggering statistic that one in two women living in South Africa will be raped in her life, the South African Police Services stopped releasing rape statistics. Instead the authorities began categorizing rape under sexual violence. The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) states that only one in 13 rape cases are reported. An estimated of 500,000 rape cases take place in this country, every year! It is also estimated that only 14% of perpetrators of rape are convicted in South Africa.
Horrific! But why are we surprised? We have a president who was accused of rape himself! This was by a woman known as Khwezi, a well-known HIV-positive activist and lesbian daughter of one of Zuma’s old comrades. She was forced to leave the country in the wake of the trial. Zuma, who was deputy president at the time, was acquitted by the courts. Gee, what a surprise! As we have found out since, our President Zuma is, by all accounts, a man of exceedingly low morals.
This low moral character appears to be endemic in our politicians and government officials. When discussing the problematic situation regarding rapes on our Rhodes University campus, our Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, advocate Michael Masutha walked out mid-interview on the SABC television programme, Checkpoint’s Nkepile Mabuse. This happened after Mabuse, the interviewer, asked Masutha how being an assertive woman links to rape, following his comment about rape and assertiveness. The minister later said he meant that assertive women were more likely to report rape cases. Idiot!
There is a history of violence at both ends of the political spectrum in this country and this has added to the toxicity of South African masculinities. Back in the old Apartheid days both sides were prone to hyper-masculinity: the anti-Apartheid activists as well as the white tribes of South Africa. This has not really changed much. Rape is about power and subjugation, the masculine dominating the feminine.

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In a lecture about performance art I gave recently, I addressed the issue of rape with my students using the work of two artists. One is a personal hero of mine and a huge inspiration in my work, Ana Mendieta. While still a student in March 1973 she was deeply affected by the brutal rape and murder of nursing student, Sarah Ann Ottens, at the University of Iowa. In response to the attack on Otten, by another student, Mendieta invited her fellow students to her apartment where, through a door left purposefully ajar, they found her tied to a table and smeared with blood. This tableau recreated the scene as reported in the press. Later, Mendieta recalled that her audience “all sat down, and started talking about it. I didn’t move. I stayed in position about an hour. It really jolted them.” She further commented that the rape had ‘moved and frightened’ her: “I think all my work has been like that – a personal response to a situation … I can’t see being theoretical about an issue like that.” She said that she created the work “as a reaction against the idea of violence against women”.

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The second artist , Emma Sulkowicz, references Mendieta’s piece more than 40 years later. A victim of rape at the hands of a fellow student after a party, Sulkowicz, after following all due processes without success, performed the endurance piece, Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight) (2014–2015). For 9 months (the length of a pregnancy) she carried a campus mattress around the university with her. Sulkowicz stated that the piece would end when the student she alleged raped her in her dorm room in 2012 was expelled from or otherwise left the university. This did not happen and she attended her graduation ceremony with the mattress. The President of the university, Lee Bollinger, in a hissy fit brought on by Emma carrying the mattress onto the stage, refused to shake her hand when she received her degree.

JPPROTEST-master675The reason I selected these 2 works to speak to the students about is not just because I feel that we should be addressing the problem of the rape culture we live in. We so obviously should! I also wanted to illustrate how really personal and extremely invasive these works were. Both artists used their own living spaces and their own bodies in very a publicised way to speak about something that they felt very strongly about. And this is the power of performance art, the fact that it is so very personal and that there is little remove between artist and viewer. It is a living art and this is the major reason why I have involved myself so completely in it. There is no other art form that will take you so very far out your comfort zone as performance art will do. And your work will be all the better for it. For me it is a starting point from where I can speak about and address so many issues. But I always begin with myself and performance. This ensures that I do not speak for others, I speak for myself. It is my voice and my conviction, and I believe that makes all the difference.

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All this talk of these awful things made me think of one of my favourite poems:

I once knew a girl who loved
Things most people shun.
Every man she ever loved was
Terrible to her, terrible
I tell you.
But there was something
About them that intrigued
Her – she liked broken things,
Broken people.
To her, if there was
Nothing to fix there was
Nothing to love.

– Christopher Poindexter

GRIP: The Chicken Challenge 2016

Been busy, so busy, so me no write for long, so long!

Been busy with my master’s dissertation, been busy with my lecturing responsibilities and been busy trying to keep the company where I work afloat in a really awful economic climate! So yes, been busy! In addition, and this is pretty cool, I was commissioned by one of the biggest universities in South Africa to make some drawings for their text books. Yes, can you believe it?!! So so so busy!

But! I have really been working the hardest on my dissertation, no lies! This was one of my new year’s resolutions, the other was to make a drawing a day, and I am proud to say I have stuck to it!

What I wanted to share with you though is a little project I undertook as a break from all of the above. Those who know me know that I am a strong supporter of women’s rights.

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It will therefore not surprise you to hear that I submitted a couple of works into an exhibition involved in raising funds for GRIP. GRIP provides confidential, comprehensive trauma counselling, practical assistance and support to help rape, sexual assault and domestic violence survivors obtain the necessary health service, help them to recover physically, emotionally and mentally and to assist in prosecuting offenders.

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The Chicken Challenge is an annual fundraising initiative in aid of the Greater Rape Intervention Project (“GRIP”), based in Mpumalanga. It encompasses skills development and job creation, recycling, community involvement and creates social awareness. Chicken canvasses are created from recycled materials, such as egg boxes and tins, by craftsmen and women and these Chicken Starter packs are then sold on to artists for a nominal fee. The completed artworks are displayed at the annual Chicken Challenge exhibition, which takes place at the White River Gallery. The 2016 exhibition will take place from 16 June to 11 July.

As I wanted to speak about the terrible thing that rape is I chose not to beautify or decorate my canvas. I know a lot of my fellow artists will choose to do that but I chose to make a statement. As long as this society we live in continues to commodify women, treating them like something to possess, to own, to be won…to be taken and discarded, we will bear witness to the abuse of our mothers, our sisters, our wives and our daughters. I called my works, The Must Haves:

commodity in rich ochre

The Must Have: Commodity in Rich Ochre

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The Must Have: Commodity in Lush Emerald

Check it out: http://www.chickenchallenge.co.za/

So the other new year’s resolution: I am proud to say that I completed my 152nd drawing today! I strongly recommend all artists take up this exercise. There are amazing benefits to it. I spend no longer than 30 minutes on a drawing and this forces me to not be precious about it. I get on with it, taking the information I see and translating it immediately into mark making. Honestly, it has become a kinda of mediation/zen exercise now much like my running is. Purely muscle memory. As I said, I highly recommend it!

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Drawing 97

141

Drawing 142

152

Drawing 152

Stop rape. Word cloud illustration in shape of hand print showing protest.

STOP RAPE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!