Margaret Nel Barren Land | Art.co.za | Art in South Africa
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Barren Land

Having won critical acclaim with selected early work, Nel's output lapsed for nearly a decade, a hiatus that only ended in 1988 after viewing the work of Penny Siopis and Keith Dietrich at the Cape Town Triennial of that year.

A period of great productivity followed, shaped by Postmodern tendencies towards compositional complexity, eclecticism and sociopolitically-charged commentary, with much of Nel's work addressing marginalised feminist and environmental identities. A barren landscape acts as a common stage upon which a recurring cast make bids at self-preservation: a makeshift shelter, a crudely demarcated claim to privacy, a futile attempt at escape. While these works can be read in context of issues pertinent to the time, including South Africa's uncertain democratic transition, the Burundian and Rwandan genocides of 1993 and 1994, and the notion of environmental abuse entering into public consciousness for the first time, they bear equal relevance to current issues of displacement and migration.

"With the sudden tide of emigration from South Africa in the early 90s, and simultaneous first wave of climate change reportage, my work became keenly focused on the theme of exodus and failed flight, and the idea of inadequate physical and emotional preparedness for the future."

When contemplated in context of the global economic fallout triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, the work again gains added relevance in light of its concern with the loss of personal control, scarcity of resources and lack of emotional sustenance.


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