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!

One of the “Boys”!

affordable art

artSPACE durban’s  Annual Affordable Art Show, now in its 12th year.  is the final exhibition of the year here in Durban.  The gallery collects and selects a wide range of fine art, exhibiting them over the festive season. They keep the prices down for buyers and collectors, encouraging them to splurge out one final time.  The Annual Affordable Art Show gives people the chance to start their collections at an affordable price and if you are already a collector there is plenty to choose from to add to your collection.

I have two works which have been selected to be exhibited and so I find myself being listed amongst names such as Andrew Verster and Jane Alexander. Never in my wildest dreams could I have envisioned that! I am so to speak, one of the “boys”! Jane Alexander is a personal favourite of mine and an artist who inspired me as a student. Her work, The Butcher Boys (1986) is extremely powerful and unsettling.

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The trio of ominous, life-size figures are created from oil painted plaster with animal horn and bone details, and are seated on a bench. The humanoid beasts have powdery skin, black eyes, broken horns, deep gouges for ears and no mouths. The beasts seem to be devoid of their outside senses with their ears are nothing more than deep gorges in their heads and their mouths are covered with thick rough skin.

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Ivor Powell calls the Butcher Boys, “images of brutalisation…they emerge from a specific time and place”: that time and place being a pre-democratic South Africa with Mandela still in prison and the ANC still banned and power in the hands of a white minority. The Butcher Boys allude to the psyche of apartheid South Africa mutated by atrocities committed and ignored, particularly by white South Africans. I can’t wait to see what work/works Alexander will have in the exhibition!

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Just as a postscript: there was a fourth figure made and exhibited at the same time as the original trio. It was auctioned recently and fetched R5.45 million at a Strauss & Co auction in Johannesburg. If ever there was proof of the value of buying when an artist is young, this is it. “I believe it was bought off her Masters’ show by an undergraduate Wits student who used her pocket money to pay it off,” says Strauss senior painting specialist Phillippa Duncan. The seller became a millionaire, having hung on to the work for more than 25 years.

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One wonders where she kept it? It probably lay in a garage somewhere covered in a dustcloth for all those years, certainly not in her lounge. R5.45 million! DAMN!!!