Saturday, February 27, 2010

Broken Arrow San Art:: Exhibition Opening

On Wednesday evening the Kalk Bay Modern was excited to present
'Broken Arrow' an exhibition of contemporary San artwork, in collaboration with SASI (The South African San Institute), The Kuru Art Project and their long time colleague The Omba Arts Trust.
[Click on the links below to view the homepages of these inspiring organisations]

The exhibition includes painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, bead work and jewellery created by a number of San artists from communities all through southern Africa.
Nicolaas Maritz, an established South African artist who lives in
Darling, opened the show with a very informative speech about the
plight of the San. 
 Cheryl Rumbak and Nicolaas Maritz
[Click on the links below to read a brief profile on Maritz as well as  an entertaining article on
  his life and art in two fabulous Darling houses]
I was very excited to see so many extraordinary San artworks on show,
a few of which were by artists discussed in previous blogs. Up close
the works are even more vital and glowing than they are on a screen
and I urge anyone interested in either the San in particular or
contemporary art in general to visit this exhibition which runs
until 31st of March

The first thing to catch my eye was a pair of carved wooden animals.
As one can see in the picture below, they are carved with incredible
sensitivity and delicacy. Maritz pointed them out during his speech
offering what i thought was a very valid insight: that their
sensitivity and care of workmanship is remarkable in its contrast to
what often constitutes contemporary art. Such qualities are often
undervalued in western art of the moment, with its high energy focus
on immediacy, punchiness and shock value, characteristic of our
disposable society.

Scattered around on shelves and tables were also incredibly wrought
wire animals, some cartoonishly exaggerated, others so skilfully
descriptive of their subject's contours that I was blown away. There
was also a beautiful display of San Jewellry from the company ArtiSan,
part of the Omba Arts Trust.

In the next few blogs i will be sharing with you some of the most
beautiful paintings and prints, all of which are currently on display
and for sale at the Kalk Bay Modern. The works on show were all
incredibly strong and the stories behind them fascinating, haunting
and beautiful. I look forward to sharing them with you!

As a taste of some of the delights to come, I’ve included a painting by the artist Andry Kashivi whom I have discussed in a previous blog. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

!Xun artist: /Tuoi Stefaans Samcuia

 I’m beginning to realise that words are weak and insufficient tools to convey anything truly relevant about the power and authenticity of the work of the !Xun and Khwe. It is created by people with whom communication is a long-winded and inadequate process. 

Marlene Sullivan Winberg relates her experiences with the translation process in Memory and Magic, her second book on these artists. A translator was required for the translator as he could speak !Xun and Afrikaans and she neither. This broken telephone is both a beautiful and sad phenomenon; an illustration of the paradox of language – that it is both a bridge and a barrier.
In contemporary culture we are used to thinking that words are the pinnacle of communication (and perhaps this is so) but ultimately, and something that has been addressed in postmodern theory, is the idea that we are all playing broken telephone with one another whether we speak the same language or not.

The power of these works lies in their wordlessness, their raw, vital sense of being, of existence, something that words do not have the power to convey.

All the works features today are by artist /Tuoi Stefaans Samcuia. A reticent young man, he speaks with long pauses between his sentences. He experienced terrible things when fighting against the Swapo in the Border War. These are his words on this experience and on his art:

“I don’t remember much but this I do: once we came upon a group of them [Swapo members] and shot three. The rest ran away. It hurt in my heart. This is why sometimes we drink a lot and walk around with the drunkenness in our heads. Then you cannot think or remember. But I do a lot of work with the paintings [....] I cannot read and write. I draw and paint. That is where people must read my work.”

His lino-cuts are amongst some of the most beautiful I have seen, both humourous and beautifully rendered.
[Below is a link to a history of the South African Border War on Wikipedia.]

!Xun artists: Kashivi & Dikuanga

Today we’ll be taking a look at the work of two !Xwe artists from the !Xhun and Khwe San Arts and Culture Project, that began Schmidtsdrift.
Andry Kashivi, the first artist we’ll be talking about says that Platfontein, the 12 500 hectare farm purchased by the government for the !Xun and Khwe in 1999, is a much better place than the tent town in Schmidtsdrift – basically a refugee camp in which these two communities lived for almost 10 years waiting for land disputes to be settled in the new South Africa.
Andry has carried a few precious belongings with her all through her arduous journey spanning many miles and many years. Chiefly amongst these are the mortar and pestle belonging to her mother and a beaded dancing skirt.
Her oil on canvas painting above, entitled Tree of Life with Gecko and Buck (1998), shows, I feel, some of the joy of life, resilience and spiritual beauty that one can deduce about Kashivi from her interview. (Read it and others in My Elands Heart, compiled and arranged by Marlene Sullivan Winberg, for sale at the Kalk Bay Modern)
The next work is by Joao Wenne Dikuanga and is a most astonishingly strong piece of work.
Joao, the oldest member of the group is an extremely quiet man. In his interview the few words he chooses to say come across with gravity. Wonderfully, he describes his creative process. It is linked to the hunting of the eland, something close to his heart:
“Here at Platfontein is no eland. When i think of this eland inside me, I just take a sheet of paper and draw it [....] [My work] comes from my heart or my head. It is from the old days, like what my father did. I think until i find the right image and then draw it.”
Below are another two works by Dikuanga illustrating the hunt.

(Click on the link below to view an article entitled Trailing the Schmidtsdrift San)

Monday, February 22, 2010

!Xun Artist: Katala Flai Shipipa

The Kalk Bay Modern is proud to be presenting Broken Arrow, an exhibition of paintings, sculptures, lino prints and beaded embroideries created by artists from San communities from South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.

Cheryl Rumbak (KBM director) is passionate about the San and, as has been discussed in previous blogs, has worked with them extensively through art and upliftment projects. She has also exhibited their work on a number of occasions and next Wednesday the KBM will have the pleasure of presenting work from a number of different groups including the remarkable Kuru Art Project.

[Click on the link below to visit their homepage]

Over the next few days I will be exploring the work on the !Xun and Khwe from !Xun and Khwe Cultural Project in Schmidtsdrift founded by Catharina Scheepers-Meyer and now managed by Marlene Sullivan Winberg.
There are two truly beautiful books documenting the work and artists of this project which will be for sale at the gallery from Wednesday. They are My Eland’s Heart and Memory and Magic.

[Click on the link below to read extracts from My Eland’s Heart on The Kalahari People’s Network] 

To whet your appetite, today I’ll be posting an extraordinary painting by the !Xun artist Katala Flai Shipipa. It is entitled Firemaker (painted in 2000, 1120mm x 820mm).

 Flai, as he signs his work, is not only an extraordinary painter but is also a storyteller. Five stories appear in the back of Memory and Magic that he relates from the old life, before westernization, remnants of the San oral tradition. The book contains an interview with each artist but as most of them speak no English, a translator was required. The young man in question was Flai’s grandson Joaquin. 

During the interview Flai suddenly started telling these ancient tales, stories that had been handed down through families for generations. Joaquin had never heard these stories – as Flai himself had said earlier in the interview, “The old stories are quiet now.” 

It seems quite possible that without the creative encouragement and support of this project, these stories may have died with Flai never to be heard by his grandchildren or anyone else. 

Broken Arrow opens on Wednesday 24 a 6:00 PM and will be opened by Nicholaas Maritz. It runs until 31 March 2010 and is really not a show to be missed.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Keiskamma Art Project

The Kalk Bay Modern Gallery has, as I have mentioned before, a policy of supporting social upliftment schemes and projects.  After discussing the Ekoka group and the life-enhancing workshops they have been involved with, I thought it would be appropriate to look at some of the other projects that KBM supports.
The Keiskamma Art Project is one such scheme and the story of how a small community arts project slowly transformed into the thriving Keiskamma Trust is an inspirational account of how art really can make waves, especially when it comes from the heart.
[click on the link below to view the Keiskamma Trust’s homepage]
The Trust aims to address the challenges of widespread poverty and disease, particularly HIV/AIDs. The Keiskamma Health Program provides the only HIV/AIDs treatment in this part of South Africa and currently has nearly 200 people on anti-retroviral drugs.
The Art Project, the inspirational spark from which all this developed, was started in 2000 by Carol Hofmeyr, a qualified doctor, in the village of Hamburg in the Eastern Cape. Taking a hiatus from her profession, she had originally decided to settle there and create her own art but found that she couldn’t ignore the poverty and the suffering of the local community. She started working with a few of the women in the area teaching them to embroider in order to make an income.
Since 2000, the project has grown in leaps and bounds and is now running under the capable leadership of Florence Danais, Nomfusi Nkani and a dedicated team of 11 local managers: Buyiswa Beja, Veronica Betani, Nokuphiwa Gedze, Nozeti Makhubalo, Nonzaliseko Makubalo, Nombuyiselo Malumbezo, Ndileka Mapuma, Cebo Mvubu, Novuyani Peyi, Caroline Tyibilika and Pumla Zita), 10 women and 1 young man involved in the project who have over the years developed the skills to assume management positions thanks to the mission of the Project to grow local skills.
The Keiskamma Art Project has worked on some truly incredible artworks. In 2004 they exhibited their first truly notable artwork, The Keiskamma Tapestry at the National Arts Festival. This incredible embroidery portrays the history of the Eastern Cape focusing on the Xhosa people and is 120 meters in length and 0, 5 meters wide. A small section of it is displayed below.
One of their most monumental and inspiring works is the Keiskamma altarpiece which has toured North America. Made up of embroidery and photographs this piece is modeled on the 15th century Isenheim Altarpiece by Grünewald. It is divided into 3 panels, one of which is featured below. 
[click on the link below to view an interesting review on the altarpiece]
The power of the Keiskamma Project has spread internationally and has attracted the attention of world famous artist Damien Hirst who, in collaboration with the London White Cube Gallery has donated the proceeds of one of his paintings to the Trust. [To see his beautiful work, Psalm 5 Verba mea auribus on the White Cube website, click on the link below.] 
Many beautiful handmade Keiskamma products can be purchased at the Kalk Bay Modern Gallery.
 (An image of the early Keiskamma work for sale in their first shop. These successful products still form the majority of the worker's income.)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ekoka Artists: Outsider Artists?

In the previous blog I briefly described the phenomenon of Outsider Art – art that is created outside academic or institutional parameters – and will today be exploring its cultural value as well as the extent to which we could describe the Ekoka artists in such terms.
The Ekoka group, as I have mentioned before, have had no formal training prior to this workshop. Having now taken part in art workshops could we still label them under this term and should we even care to try? Would the term ‘Naive Art’ – artists that have had some contact with mainstream art and often emulate it – be more appropriate?
I would say an important factor lies in the method of the workshops. A central aim was to reunite these disposed people with a culture that was roughly torn away from them. In this sense they are certainly not being encouraged to conform to any mainstream ideals but to reconnect to their past and their heritage. As with any group of people some of these men and woman have much greater creative and explorative tendencies – some are true artists, others lean towards creation as a craft, a pleasant, income-generating activity but not something that requires or involves their hearts or souls.
An intense desire to create occurs naturally within some people even if they have no tradition or social infrastructure to support this. A few of the participants had modelled animals from wood or taken part in some other creative activity before this workshop such as sewing and beading. I would say that these individuals have always been artists and certainly they have been and still are on the outside of mainstream society.
While some might argue that having had contact with a western scheme for freeing creativity they cannot now be termed Outsider Artists. As all terms are fairly arbitrary it’s hard to say whether this is true or not. In many ways they do fit the bill – certainly their work is interesting to observe from the perspective of it being removed from the mainstream culture.
As to the individuality of the artists the work speaks for itself. There is the overall impression of great similarity just as there often is in the art of children who learn together. However it is the subtle differences that we should keep our eyes open for; it’s in these that we can see the seeds of their future creativity. Knowing their deprived and impoverished backgrounds it is truly a miraculous thing to observe each little quirk that presents itself, each struggle with perspective and fascinating solution to space, each little flag of individuality. To have the opportunity to see these creative spirits emerge from the chrysalis of their harsh lives is miraculous and an honour.
Below I have listed some very interesting links on outsider art as well as the blogs of a few current outsider artists who use the internet as a public space to display their works.
Here is the webpage for OutsiderArt.inof - an International Outsider Exhibition of Modern Art (IOEMA)

Here is a wonderful link to information about South Africa's most famous outsider artist duo team of Helen Martins and Koos Malgas - creators of the Owl House.
Here are two private blogs by interesting outsider artists I came across. 

Monday, February 8, 2010

Ekoka Artists: Tusnelda Kamati & Raima Namupala

Today I will be discussing the last two Ekoka artists from this workshop and introducing the concept of ‘outsider artists’, a term that could be used to describe the Ekoka group – I will be elaborating on this interesting phenomenon in my next blog.

 The first artist is Tusnelda Kamati who is originally from Oshipala where she began her schooling. Her family moved to Ongangola where she attended a missionary school and had to restart the first grade– something she was very upset about. Here she reached Grade 6 whereupon she moved to a trade school that taught needlework and sewing. She became a teacher at Ekoka where she taught pre-school and the first grade to the Quagga and !Kung locals. 
She married and had 10 children of which, sadly, only 5 are alive today
Tusnelda is improving and growing in her art and is very serious about her work. Her paintings are becoming very sought after and her own words on the matter are, “It’s good for me to be serious in a workshop otherwise God would be angry with me.”

Unfortunately I have only one simple lino-cut as an example of Tusnelda’s work. I will track down more varied examples of all the Ekoka’s artists’ work and will be posting them at a later date.

This image shows a very delicate, whimsical technique quite unusual amongst this group of artists whose style is obviously quite raw. The design is very simple and more of a pattern than a picture, formed from the bodies of 5 snakes, geometrically ordered, and two delicately rendered trees. The process of lino-cutting entails that everything that is not to be printed is cut away (the opposite of drawing) and Tusnelda has treated her negative space in a very conscious way – usually there are some lines left within a ‘white’ background and here they all lie in one direction instead of the more common method of allowing them to follow the form of the foreground. I feel this is a clear indication of the seriousness and focus of Tusnelda’s style and is certainly something very unique in her work.

Our second artist is Raima Namupala. He was born in Elundu but grew in Okongo, where he went to school until the missionaries came. He married very young and his first wife and child died; tragically the same thing happened in his second marriage. In 1993 he moved to Ekoka when the government took over the land management and there he met his current wife Maria, who took part in a drama workshop linked to these art workshops. They have three children.

He is happy to be part of the art project and he can feel that he’s improving in drawing, linocut and painting. During this workshop he was very happy to receive his first payment.

Raima has a strong style with a strong illustrative quality. In the image above we can see a wonderfully quirky sense of design in the shape of his tree – a very successful silhouette. There is also an amusing quality in the upward glance of the bird on the ground – wonderfully hieroglyphic in design – at his colleague on the top of the tree.

In the previous blog, which featured Hendelina Hamukanda I raised the point that these artists have had little or no artists training before this point and that they come to workshop with concepts and natural tendencies that any who have studied art – even as a school subject – will have lost.
Artists that create outside the influence of societal influences are termed Outsider Artists by some and their art began to generate interest and appreciation just after the beginning of the last century. 

The term was coined by Roger Cardinal as an English synonym to art brut (French for ‘raw’ or ‘rough’ art), a label created by the artist Jean Dubuffet. A notable South African Outsider artist was Helen Martins who created the Owl House. I will further explore her work in the next blog and discuss to what extent the Ekoka artists fit into this category and whether the term has any worth to begin with.

[for more information on Outsider Artists click on the informative Wikipedia link below]

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Ekoka artist: Hendelina Hamukanda

Hendelina Hamukanda is one of the most interesting Ekoka artists and one of my firm favourites. Born in Oshana, north of Okongo, she now lives in Ekoka with her grandmother and her two children. She is in her late 20’s and has five brothers and 3 sisters.
Her workshop report indicates that she has the potential to develop into a very strong artist and is more experimental than the other women artists. In particular she is a very good lino-cutter and enjoys experimenting with this medium. She is determined, focused and enthusiastic with a sense of humour and boldness about her work. She says she feels very committed to the project and she’s hoping to get money for food and soap for her family.
The first work we will be discussing shows some of the most characterful and originally depicted animals I have seen in the works of these artists (edition 6/50). 
I must confess that I do not know what exactly these animals are but it is very clear that they have been carefully observed and rendered. Two bendy trees and a snake form a compositionally strong semi-circular border on either side of which lie a sun and a moon. I find the observation in the postures of the two bottom animals really incredible – it must be remembered that prior to these workshops the majority of its participants had little or no artistic experience and to see natural observational and creative talent emerge from a lifetime’s dormancy is a miraculous thing and a truly wonderful gift.
The second linocut (6/40) is a simple little image but features two more delightful animals. In particular their heads and feet are enchantingly depicted and the one appears to have interesting curly horns (or ears).
I’m extremely glad to have an example of Hendelina’s painting and this is a truly delightful work. Its complexity and variety make for an absorbing and intriguing image.
The dominant figure is that of an extremely happy looking man carrying a long leafy branch on which a small blue spotty parcel is attached. A most amusing and charming detail is that his bottom half appears to have started out as a house, complete with red triangular roof and square blue windows. Directly below his striding legs lies a smoking fire (or possibly a spider) that is attached in size and narrative space to a small hut containing a tiny woman. It seems clear to me that this mammoth bread-winner is on his way home and that this little scene lies in the distance as his destination.
This charming lack of concern for real space reminds me of the intense process undertaken by young children in their drawings. I have watched my little cousin draw pictures of battles, spaceships and dinosaurs and as he draws he makes sound effects, develops stories, kills off characters and introduces new ones; in short the picture plane is a rich and interactive surface in which the process of creation is of prime concern and an all-absorbing alternate reality during the drawing’s execution. This is a characteristic that is sadly lost as the years go past and more value is placed on the product, and its worth in the eyes of others, than the process. Viewed in this way, a more developed style of drawing has actually lost a great deal of depth and is somewhat ‘dead’ or one-dimensional by comparison. This reminds me of the famous quote by Picasso in which he observes that “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up”.
There is once again a host of fantastic animals the most delightful of which is a pale green lizard in whose arched back and overall posture, the essence of this little creature is perfectly captured.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Ekoka artist: Ndapewa Namupalwa

Ndapewa Namupalwa is 28 years old, from Ongangolas and she has 4 sisters and 3 brothers. She was born in Okango and grew up in Ekoka. She attended school for a while but left in Grade 6 in order to marry. She now lives with her mother as, sadly, her husband is deceased. Like many of the people in her community Ndapewa has had a very difficult life and has suffered through many tragic events. 
The picture below shows a very beautiful young woman with a distressingly hard face as if life has dealt her many hard blows.
She had three children but only her middle child is still alive. Happily though, on the last night of the workshop (she produced 6 works while heavily pregnant) she gave birth to a little girl. Abraham Hamunyela, the first Ekoka artist we looked at, is the new baby's grandfather.

The workshop's reports say of Ndapewa that she has a bold style, draws well and has a good colour sense (unfortunately I have no examples of her paintings). She is very happy to be a part of these workshops and says that drawing and painting make her heart feel good.

The first image of hers we will be looking at (edition 5/40) is a good example of her bold style. 
It features an enormous snake whose curving body spans the entire length of a tree. In some shrubbery below sits a little bird and to the right is a large circular object that appears to be a sunflower but called also be a pond of some sort. It is a very gentle, unassuming little scene, extremely innocent and cheerful.

It seems to contrast greatly with her next work (8/60) which is more roughly carved, with far more directional background markings than in the very cleanly cut first image. 

The image is primarily dominated by an enormous sprawling plant, with restio-like reeds making up the bottom half, topped by the most extraordinary flower. The black petals are each dashed with 2 or three white marks and are the most peculiar shape - each comprising of a main leaf-shape off of which sprout smaller lobes. The petals look alarmingly like wailing distorted faces.
In the left corner almost pushed off the page by the monstrous plant is an exceedingly strange but charming little creature - perhaps a fox by his pointy ears - with a wide, slightly shy, smile on his face. She has chosen to represent him from a challenging viewpoint, face-on in a sitting position and has come up with an interesting solution to the challenge that conveys upon the creature a definite character.