Erna Bodenstein Absa Exhibition 2003 | | Art in South Africa
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Absa Exhibition 2003

click for Opening Speech by Prof Antony Melck

In this two-person exhibition at The ABSA Gallery, Johannesburg, with Annette Pretorius, I continue to explore the notion of femininity in the wake of two previous solo shows entitled “Imagine Feminine Nuances” (Barcelona, Spain: 1997 and 1998) and “The Female Gaze” (Pretoria Association of Art: 2001).

This body of work centres directly on the conceptual exploration of “femaleness” as a multi-layered play of nuances. It stresses the universal mortality and vulnerability of the human body and mind in general, but again uses the female form, or the suggestion of parts of it, as a relevant metaphor.

I had the misfortune of breaking my left arm (just above the wrist) at a critical stage in preparing for this exhibition. Bone had to be implanted from my hip and, in addition, sustained a cracked sacrum as well. Thus I was, and still am, confronted with the bodily and resultant mental restrictions of literal human fragility. This forced me, out of necessity, to explore alternative ways of artistic expression and to accept output constraints.

As a user a variety of techniques, but seldom only paint on canvass, this however seemed to be the least demanding, given my physical condition. Nevertheless, I still had to deal with and confront extreme pain, debilitating discomfort and additional frustration in the execution of these works, all of which tested not only resilience, but also the ability to continue regardless.

To compensate for lost time, I included in this exhibition a series of ‘drawings’ on paper, originally made in Barcelona in 1998 but subsequently adapted, never shown in South Africa in their current form. These drawings, subtly executed using non-traditional materials such as olive oil and female facial makeup, emphasises the fragility of the human body and mind – in this case, the female body or parts thereof. For the first time, these delicate representations of gradual decay, mortality and vulnerability have been presented in light-boxes, further reinforcing the transient nature of the human being.

Similarly, in form, composition, colour and content, the paintings attempt to convey the same message, albeit sometimes in different stages of the lifecycle. As a whole, this exhibition further explores a recurring theme in my work, with the added dimension of not only mental but also physical personal experience. In the end, I believe, it illustrates the strength of mind over body.

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