Helena Hugo SA @ WORK 2010 | Art.co.za | Art in South Africa
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SA @ WORK 2010 | University of Johannesburg Art Gallery

In a world where the manual labourer is often overlooked or exploited Helena Hugo draws the attention to the worker as an individual with his and her own hopes, aspirations and pride.

Hugo’s oil paintings and pastel drawings offer the viewer exquisite and detailed images of workers.

Her approach (specifically in the pastel drawings) transcends conventional notions of realistic portraiture, rendering her work a unique quality. Her drawings capture the essence of these workers at work; exploring their relation to the work they are employed to do.

Sometimes overshadowed by the equipment they use Hugo introduces a level of tension between work and worker (that could be read as an indication of a Marxist dialectic). Adding to this tension she plays with the reciprocal gaze established between the viewer and viewed. Looking at these workers the viewer becomes the subject of observation!

Hugo exploits the moment captured in her work but refrains from exploiting her subjects. She treats them with sincerity and compassion without being apologetic. She reminds the viewer of the workers’ significance in society as well as their economical importance.

Hugo brings a fresh dimension to the visual arts in South Africa – not only as South Africa at work, but also what it means to be human.

by Johan Myburg

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