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There are witches among us - Roll Call explores society’s perception of women

by Marilyn de Freitas posted on March 7, 2013.

"If a witch was nothing as noble as a healer, but simply an old woman with a sharp tongue, then I, too, am a witch!"

In 2009, Majak Bredell injured her back and was forced to halt her studio work. This drove her to research reflections and representations of the female mythology, religion and history. Three years later, the final product, Roll Call, opened at the UJ Art Gallery on Wednesday 6 March 2013. Roll Call is made up of a paper scroll (18.30m x 1.53m) depicting fifty-two figures drawn in graphite, gesso, oil wash, marker, ink charcoal and pastel and is inscribed with various references to the individuals who lost their lives in witch persecutions. Bredell discusses the binaries between good and evil and how society’s confined beliefs fractured lives based on hearsay and imaginary assumptions through detailed timelines, extracts from Malleus Maleficarum, case histories, letters and stories.

"The pain in my own body opened me to the pain of others and gave me specific empathy for the terrible tortures suffered by the many lives and bodies that were so brutally broken, scorched, stretched, dislocated, ripped, drowned and burned…," Bredell states.

WITCH-2
Graphite, gesso, and oilwash on Lenox paper 63.5cm x 183cm

The Witch-hunt is a centuries old tool of prejudice against society, in particular women. Bredell focuses on the individual life tortured by the Inquisitors of the church and aims to proclaim those unknown and un-named returning to them their humanity. She questions the existence of witches, rather portraying the figures in the Roll Call as realistic and human, a move away from the cannon of the witch on a broomstick, surrounded by darkness and magic. She presents in the evidence of her research questioning of the reasons for the persecutions by the Inquirers and how religious thought created an environment of fear of the evil these witches possibly presented.

The intricate technical qualities of the work are naked in their simplistic execution revealing vulnerable children, fertile women and idealistic embodiment of women juxtaposed with the brutal realities of their lives written painstakingly across the scroll. "In my scroll, I juxtapose the un-violated body with the words that reflect the agonies suffered," she states. The figures presented are healthy and unmarred, allowing Bredell to give victims of witch persecutions vindication through her art.

The belief in the existence of witches stems from the fear of the other or the devil and anyone who was different or rebellious was attacked and condemned. In today’s society similar condemnations have been experienced by homosexuals, atheists and traditional healers.

"Violence against people who are different from the norm or grey masses seems endemic. In South Africa of the 21st century black lesbians are 'correctively' raped.

Often this is arranged by their own families. In Europe of the 1100s up to the 1700s, people who were different or lived on the edges of society as loners, healers, conjurers or practitioners of magic, were targeted by Church and society alike, and burned as witches. Those who abhor and fear diversity set out to destroy others," says Bredell.

The exhibition presents a limited cultural view of women in history. The works express issues still experienced by women today where they are viewed as objects that can be owned and controlled in a patriarchal society. Bredell's works questions the perception of women and the lack of respect towards them today.

According to the South African Pagan Rights Alliance, "Witchcraft accusations, hangings, stoning episodes, burnings, beatings, hackings, banishing and forced relocations are common types of brutality and violence women in particular, are still subjected to in many communities of South Africa. All too often, with epidemic frequency, the disempowered (old women, children and men) are subjected to false accusations, brutal and abusive treatment at the hands of accusers, rural courts, superstitious and angry mobs who wish to purge their community of the perceived 'evil' amongst them."

Preparatory studies for Roll Call will be exhibited from 16 March to 16 April at the White River Gallery as part of The Advocacy: Art for Human Rights, with the aim of creating awareness of contemporary witch killings here and other parts of the world.

"While I worked on the scroll, I found myself creating a counter voice to the many voices that contributed to the needless destruction of so many lives that were sacrificed over the centuries in the name of religious dogma, ideology, and theory," says Bredell.

VOICE-8
Graphite, gesso, oilwash, and ink on Lenox paper 68cm x 183cm

The exhibition travelled to the Association of Arts in Pretoria in May and will open at the White River Gallery in August 3. The scroll and the essay, The Witch Hunts & The Scroll, can be viewed in their entirety at www.trans-end.org.za/white_cube/ROLL-CALL/


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