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.