Returning once again to figurative subject matter in the mid-2000s, Nel specifically focused on skin, when laid bare to the elements, as a metaphor for psycho-emotional or physical vulnerability.
Exposed skin, and the trauma inflicted upon it by the harsh effects of the sun or the cold, alludes to a lack of preparedness for existing, or perhaps forthcoming, adverse conditions. This evidence of inadequate self-preservation points, perhaps, to the premature transition from an Arcadian age of innocence to a state of worldliness and disenchantment - whether sexual, political or emotional. When considered from the perspective of migration, displacement and diasporic communities, both within African and global contexts, these works may also be read as investigations into the effects of socio-political ostracisation of, exploitation of or even retribution against The Other by those perceived to have greater or more legitimate claims to national identity, occupation or other privileges.
"My interest in the effects of mental debilitation, and the resultant loss of identity, has led me to explore the figure in over life-size proportions, with a particular interest in exposed skin."
Nel's preoccupation with bare, sunburned skin dates back as early as 1974 in her abstracted study of a solitary sunbather in The Last Summer, and has appeared as a recurring symbol of the loss of personal control in much of her subsequent work. In her figurative studies from the mid-2000s, she specifically adapts this theme to address the extreme rise, and resulting national trauma, of criminal violence in South Africa.
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