TSUNDOKU

Tsundoku: the act of leaving a book unread after buying it; typically piling it up together with other such unread books.

This singularly perfect Japanese word wonderfully describes my present condition. This is not to say that I am not reading. No, on the contrary, I am reading (and writing) in vast amounts. But it has been very selective reading, focused in the world of academia, and on the thinking about the idea of art.

I am certain by now that you, dear reader, must know that I am presently busy with my Masters. I know this is because I go on and on about it! You will have to forgive me for that but please understand that this is what my world revolves around at the moment. I am either working in the factory or on my Masters. That’s what I do aside from the odd run. So it is quite literally on my mind all the time, and has been for virtually 3 years now. I am not trying to boast or say that I am so wonderful. My Masters is all I really have to speak about. I am obsessed! It is a tough proposition and takes serious focus, determination and stamina. You need to be seriously obsessed! But then all good artists do obsession well, so I feel that I am in fine company.

In addition, I have, over the past 3 months, been further occupied with something really exciting. I was asked to be a co-curator of a feminist exhibition at the Durban Art Gallery. I was included to operate as the masculine counterpoint within the collaborative; a beast amongst the beauties. This is a huge honour as DAG is the metro gallery for the region I live in and has a history going back as far as 1892 when it was founded. I have exhibited in this hallowed space before but it was quite another thing to curate an entire exhibition in those spaces. It was an amazing experience to be involved with curating on a scale such as this.

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The title of the exhibition was Beauty & Its Beasts and it revolved around the theme of the changing face of female stereotypes in visual arts. It highlighted issues of gender, race and representation through the stereotype. Considering my Masters deals with these exact issues you can understand why I simply could not turn down the opportunity despite my workload. It is safe to say that opportunity knocked and I French-kissed the hell out of it!

Lliane Loots, a lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, founder of Flatfoot Dance Company and feminist activist, opened the exhibition with a wonderful speech. I managed to get her to forward a copy of it to me and I share a few excerpts with you here:

Her overall impression – I am indeed extremely grateful for the invite as I feel like I have been woken again to something significant. Partly it is the exquisite politics of art making and artists who are unafraid to travel to the heart of darkness, and partly it is the very dedicated collaborative curatorship of an exhibition that left me feeling very emotional as I walked around.

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We are asked to enter the exhibition through a bedroom-like curtain of shiny beads … it is a playful disruption that allows you to catch your breath as the eye moves first to Sibanda and her hounds/bitches, and then to the ghostly  disembodied figures of women’s bodies in portraits and sculpture.

 

 

 

 

Queen Victoria’s portrait (ever present) sits and watches the fury and majesty of Sibanda’s alter ego Sophie as she literally spills her guts, with her hounds (or bitches) at her feet … it is  a brave curatorial pairing but one that makes sense when we begin the dialogue around post-coloniality and the violence of embodied race and gender stereotyping.

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Jane Alexander’s raped “Oh Yes” girl hangs crucified in a dialogue with Fran Saunder’s densely crocheted unravelling cloak hanging from a butcher’s hook – all in recognition of the almost never mentioned plight of the women of Marikana.

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The curators have taken a building and a series of spaces that cannot not reflect its historical coloniality and found ways to ask the viewer to re-position themselves as they engage with, what for me, is an exhibition that resounds with broken bones, broken skin and broken spirits of women. The triumph of course is that some of these women look back and look past you …

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So yes, tsundoku: piles of unread books! All waiting for me to get to them. I love it! So much to look forward to!

The Artist and the Academic and Everything In-between

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I went to a showing of Vincent van Gogh’s work on Saturday as part of the Exhibition on Screen series. As I have mentioned in a previous post, to see these great artworks displayed on an immense movie screen is quite sensational and something I certainly recommend! The showing was quite biopic in nature, highlighting the fact that Vincent was not some lunatic that painted in insane bursts of divine inspiration but was an educated man who grappled with the demands of being and artist, both on a technical and conceptual level. If anything they stressed the fact that painting is an arduous task hence the word artwork! The timing of the showing was quite serendipitous as only the day before I had completed 5 days of lecturing for the university I attend (my Masters) and by whom I am also employed.

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Above: Cynthia, our model for figure studies

Below: a student’s work

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This is a copy of the email I forwarded to my students this morning:

Hi students

To those who attended the past workshop. well done, and thank you for your enthusiastic participation! I am sure you will agree that it was well worth your time. To those who did not I am saddened that you could not. I realize that our lives are very demanding but if art is truly your calling then sacrifices are required. However, unlike very few other things your rewards will be a hundred-fold if you do make those sacrifices, and I know of what I speak, having gone through the same process myself as a past student.

The venue itself was very inspirational (a heritage site in its own right – the old beer hall). We had a live model for three days as study for drawing and painting exercises. We attended the opening of an exhibition at the City Hall in the Durban Art Gallery. We had amazing lectures from Lawrence, Yvette and Cate as well as the amazing Doung Anwar Jahangee, on his personal philosophy of an “architecture without walls” (http://www.dala.org.za/dala_people.html) and practising artist, Themba Shibase (http://www.hy-se-sy-se.com/paint-masculinity-power-and-violence-the-present-exhibition-by-themba-shibase). A truly stimulating, inspirational and intense week of art in every form.

OK, moving on: So your first assignments have been completed and assessed and you are now faced with a whole lot of new challenges due in August. To feel exhausted, overwhelmed and a little emotional at the moment is quite natural, I promise. Take a break, a short one. Catch up on all the things you have neglected while frantically making art: watch back-to-back episodes of Game of Thrones, spend time with family and friends, clean up your home/room/studio. Then get back on the horse! Start your processes again.

Finally, one can feel disheartened after a workshop and see only failure in the feedback received from the marking lecturers. Remember, however, that there are only more successful and less successful artworks not failures. The marking lecturers will have provided a lot of positive criticism and advice, learn from them. The critting process is not only a marking tool but also a teaching tool.

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Above: the Beer Hall Gallery space

Below: my demonstration table

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These workshops are seriously intense experiences and simultaneously seem to last an eternity and yet are over in the blink of an eye! They are almost-overwhelmingly stimulating, stressful and joyful, again all simultaneously!  To add to all of this, xenophobic attacks were taking place not a kilometre from us in the city centre, these arguably sparked by the Zulu king’s comments on foreigners in South Africa. At the height of these attacks in the city of Durban, when 4 people were killed, we were evacuated from the premises and sent home. The attacks were not unexpected and reveal a long-simmering tension between impoverished South Africans and entrepreneurial immigrants trying to make a living at a time when the unemployment rate is 25.5 percent. When I hear this reasoning I want to retch! What pathetic excuses we make for our behaviour; religion, politics, self-defence…any excuse will do. The fact is we are selfish, self-serving, self-involved parasites who consume and are of little value to this planet and this existence.

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Above: satirical commentary by the artist, Zapiro

Humanity, what foul things we are! It is only art that reminds me that we as a species may have some sort of saving grace. I straddle these worlds of the artist (swany), the academic in the form of both lecturer and the student (Andrew Swanepoel) and then as inhabitant of Durban, South Africa (Andy) mired in my humanity.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet voices my disgust:

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how

infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and

admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like

a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet,

to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me—

We are capable of so much, all that Hamlet lists, which makes the horror show that we are that more terrible. Perhaps it is this that Vincent saw in his terrible skies above dark fields of corn and sleeping towns and it was this vision which drove him to utter despair and finally to death, an abdication from the species which destroys such a beautiful world.

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Looking FOR ward: Our Lives IN 2034

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I have had a hectic 3 weeks! I was fortunate enough to be asked to submit a work for consideration for an exhibition to be held at the Durban Art Gallery. As part of the exhibition brief we were required to attend a two day seminar where specialists in the fields of physics, mathematics, environmentalism and astronomy, to name a few, visualized the future.

This was the brief we received:

In this, the 20th year of democracy in South Africa, the Durban Art Gallery and artSPACE durban are cooperating in an exhibition titled: “Looking Forward: Our Lives in 2034”.

The exhibition is under the curatorship of Jenny Stretton and Karen Bradtke and brings together a group selected artists from KwaZulu-Natal in an exhibition at the Durban Art Gallery from August 5 to September 14. 

Each artist presents one artwork, which is a culmination of individual research and the participation in a two-day seminar held at artSPACE durban on July 4 and July 5 and chaired by Tanja Hichert, senior researcher form the Institute for Futures Research, University of Stellenbosch and Director of the South African Node of the Millennium Project. 

This exhibition runs concurrently with an exhibition of works from the Durban Art Gallery collection curated by Jenny Stretton and, together, represents the most significant exhibition in Durban for a very long time. 

This exhibition is sponsored in part by the Natal Arts Trust.

To my great relief I completed and submitted my piece on time, and today I heard that it had been selected to be part of the exhibition. Now this is a big deal because DAG is the Durban City metro gallery and thus it is extremely prestigious to be exhibiting there. Needless to say I am stoked!!

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My work is a visual, chronological narrative with a focus on gender, as well racial and colonial issues, specifically within the South African context. In studying the past as a record of change we are able to visualize a future South Africa in 2034. It is called Nomzamo which is Winnie Mandela’s name and translates as: “the mother of…”  or “she”who” struggles, endeavours.  August being women’s month, I thought this would be quiet fitting. The work consists of 4 pieces, each 85 cm by 60 cm. and is a mixture of oils, print, embroidery and hand-stitching. With my work, because it often deals with gender issues, I tend to use the stitching to deconstruct certain societal perceptions: 1) that it is, a craft associated with the feminine (not considered an art form), 2) the manner in which I create it which is associated with the masculine (factory, production lines) and the non-creative, reproduction of banal images. Also it speaks of how I make a living and the environment in which I find myself “enslaved”, working in a factory in clothing manufacturing and design.

So the opening is tonight and should be a blast! Try and make it if you can!

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Above: Nomzamo (2014): swany

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