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A Portrait of a Young Artist Series: The self-reflexive generation

by Dave Mann posted on November 12, 2015.

Gina Figueira, Memory and mobility

In line with the rest of the country's tertiary education systems, students at the university currently known as Rhodes have had a challenging year. Besides the recent #FeesMustFall protests which saw the university's students and select members of staff stand together in protest, efforts towards decolonising the colonial structure of the university have been kicking up year round, on its campus, in its lecture halls and in its student residences. Now it was time for the Fine Art students to have their say at the annual Fine Art Graduate exhibition through 21 solo exhibitions across a wide range of venues, all coming together in one evening.

The event began at the Rhodes School of Art which housed Gina Figueira's memory and mobility. The idea for the piece stemmed from the artist's experience of her father's Multiple Myeloma-a bone based cancer-and her grandmother's gradual Dementia. The work itself was sculpture based and combined elements of her father's flair for photography and her time spent baking with her grandmother. Moulds of photographic film and dark room tongs resembled empty pill bottles and scattered ribs respectively. Casts of tripod legs sat brittle and broken, and baking spatula moulds harnessed a seemingly collective memory of childhood days. Overall, the exhibition set a high bar for the evening's subsequent work.

Down the steps of the Rhodes School of Art and out into the night took you to a new venue, The Festival Gallery, was Sarah Muriel Larkin's Blinding Memory: Blurring Re-inscription. Larkin made use of heavily inked botanical prints and blind intaglio embossing to portray the confusion and frustration that comes with the blurring of one's mind and memory throughout old age. Her pieces were delicate and enthralling, specifically the use of old family photographs which could be viewed through the lenses of old prescription glasses, creating a feeling of almost desperate defeat in the attempt to engage with each particular memory.

Sharon Moses, Girl finally gets the face of her dreams!

Further up Somerset Street was the Albany Natural Sciences Museum hosting Paresthesia, Lara Harvey's collection of mixed media sculptures which looked at themes of trauma, loss, disintegration, regeneration, and their shared contestations. A shelf lining the room housed moulds of classic mother and daughter faces, taut and constricted, while the centre of the room featured manipulated moulds of limbs. Some resembled weakening flesh and loss of function, while others carried cultures of sprouting seedlings, growing from the limbs themselves and giving new life.

A little bit further up, The Albany History Museum housed a number of individual exhibitions. As you climbed the stairs you were met with Sharon Moses' series of distorted portraits Girl finally gets the face of her dreams!. Through incredibly detailed, sweeping portraiture with a fierce reimagining, Moses opened up room for thought around the notions of beauty and the extent to which people will go to adapt their appearances.

Mum At Work is a series of installations, photographs, and paintings by Courtney Scott which looked at the history of women in the working world confined and constricted to careers serving men. Sexist adverts, old typewriters, recorders, and paintings of the artistís female family members paid homage to a generation of women who sought independence under rigid gender roles.

Justine Knowles, Man the Masterpiece

In an entirely new and site-specific venue was Thulisile Siguca's uThixo ebenathi (and the Lord was with us). The photographic and installation exhibition was a tribute to her grandparents who managed to raise a sizeable family as well as follow their passion under extreme socio- economic disadvantage. Through photographs of the artist in her grandparents church attire, to religious and historical trinkets organised neatly and ornamentally throughout the historically white, elite chapel, Siguca recolonised and reimagined a space that her grandparents were previously not afforded.

A short drive or arduous walk up to the 1820 Settler's Monument complex saw you at the last of the evening's exhibitions. Outside in the Fort Selwyn building was Justine Knowles' Man the Masterpiece based on a 19th century book by the same name. Through a series of detailed paintings, Knowles contextualised, blurred, and quite literally reframed the idea of the masculine in an intimate exhibition complete with the book itself.

Sharing the Monument Gallery was Mark Godfrey's The Nadir Point, and Shay Brown's Interlaced Terrains. Godfrey's series of photographic works focussed on the four basic human needs of shelter, food, water, and community. Aerial perspectives showed various human dwellings, none of them inhabited, but each one speaking to a plethora of human experience and behaviour. Brown's work focussed on the hyper modern through mapping the paths and regions of wi- fi signals. Each signal had a particular colour and whether represented as an aerial view of a large area, or a single building with various signals, each scrawling line intertwined with the next, creating colourful networks or connectivity.

Mari Schultz, Umbra

Down a few flights of stairs in the Rehearsal Room was Kirsty Hayden-Smith's Gaps in Seeing. The exhibit worked off of the ungraspable notions of the visible and the tangible and their resultant experiences. Perhaps the most thoughtfully laid out exhibition of the evening, the piece made use of masterful lighting and set up, drawn to a point of perspective through hanging prints, allowing the viewer to visibly contextualise the body of work.

Ending off the evening in the expansive Side Stage of the Monument was Mari Schulz's Umbra which was premised on an excerpt from the often studied Antjie Krog poem Wetenskapmannetjies. A perfect exhibit to end off on, Umbra comprised of ethereal, ambient backtracks and luminous prints of microscopic images taken with a high resolution scanner. The images resembled planets, or they resembled cells. It was entirely dependent on the viewer's perspective. Standing beneath the two story high ceiling of the venue at the end of an evening long series of exhibitions, perspective was not something that was hard to come by.

So ends another year of Fine Art Graduate exhibitions, and all in all, one that did well to demonstrate the complex spectrum of a class of graduating artists, each involved in important processes of introspection through their work. It must be noted though, that art is not simply a by- product of strictly personal, or disengaged politics. Art should be at the forefront of the country's politics, guiding, interpreting, and reimagining. With the socio-political and economic fault lines of the country so deeply imbedded, even the simplest of art should scratch at the coalface, with the best digging deep to interrogate and reflect. And with a class comprising almost entirely of white artists, it's clear that South Africa's arts education has a long way to go before it can become anywhere near holistically reflective and representative.

Photographs by Dave Mann and Tamani Chithambo.


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