South African Cultural Observatory

A day at sea

BY Dr Danny Shorkend 07.07.17

HIGHLY relevant, this exhibition focuses on the plight of refugees, particularly from Africa who against terrible odds try to cross the Mediterranean and enter Europe. The treacherous waters combined with some harsh policies of the EU, notwithstanding Germany’s more open policy, has often lead to countless deaths, including children. The works by photographer Martina Gruber and paintings/mixed media work by the more well-known Zimbabwean artist Gillian Rosselli speak to these sensitive issues.

The irony or blatant contradiction is the fact that these paintings, collages and installations as well as photographs are on one level quite beautiful. Indeed, such is the coast line of much of Europe. Yet at the same time, beneath these waters are the remains of thousands who have not survived the journey. A dangerous journey that could only have been made if the conditions in those countries were not themselves that harrowing. And indeed, they are. In conversation with Gruber, she points out that the EU could help alleviate the problems in these countries instead of spending countless amounts to barricade the borders.

The chilling reality is that so many have been lost to the sea, where the sea itself can also be applied as a wider reference point referring to the drowning of, for example children in the illicit crimes of those who have exploited these refugees. Yet at the same time, the blues and greens are not simply cool, chilling colours but exude a warmth, even a kind of spirituality. Thus, the associations are multidimensional: the sea that wipes away all memory of the past; the sea that appears to eternally ebb and flow; the sea that is the pathway toward great discovery – the so-called new world that beckons.

Rosselli’s paintings often invoke a deep pain tempered with a calming, almost harmonious compositional unity. Her explorations of blue – a colour that often symbolises communications as the nexus between mind and heart – are evocative. They remind one of the sea that is tempestuous – potentially calm, potentially exhilarating, but also violent, terrifying and terribly dangerous. This is echoed in Gruber’s work where one finds the alternative use of colour and black/white. In this sense, there is a loud aspect to the sea as it were and a softer, almost silent, sinister set of meanings.

Both artists’ do not just deal with the theme conceptually or abstractly. They incorporate actual renderings of missing children, actual writings of narratives and in that story-telling bring the idea into concrete reality and emotional tension. For this is not a “refugee crisis” or point on immigration law, but a humanitarian disaster, a human saga kept at bay with political jousting and economic coldness.

I particularly enjoyed Rosselli’s mixed media works. Creative and emotively worked, one begins to feel the ineffable – the emotions – through the materiality and physicality that she has chosen to work with. This then parallels or converges with Gruber’s ability to capture birds in and around the waters, as if they “chirp” a death-knoll or that a new peaceful world – and land – has been reached.

The photographic work together with the paintings complement one another well. One gets the sense that the various media express a clear message. It is firstly there to raise awareness. Then it is emotionally charged. Is it then a call to action? Is art, as Nietzsche would have it not aesthetics for its own sake, not a Kantian “disinterestedness”, but there to add to life, that aesthetics is there so that one can even change one’s life-world. In that sense, one can only hope through a kind of ripple-like effect or the famous “butterfly effect” that such consciousness and conscience makes its way into the palaces, court houses and parliamentary houses of those whose signing power apparently or rather inexplicably is said to mean so much. Perhaps more importantly, surely everyone – the king and queen of his/her world as such – is not at the mercy of the system. The artists concerned have surely taken a bold step in trying to eradicate a lack of awareness. And maybe, just maybe, things will get better and the waters will meet the shoreline carrying their human cargo safely ashore.     


Three Solo shows: Turiya Magadlela, Bronwyn Katz and Herman Mbamba At Blank Projects Three Solo shows: Turiya Magadlela, Bronwyn Katz and Herman Mbamba At Blank Projects

RELOCATED to larger premises in Woodstock, Blank Projects is a wonderful space for art. In this premier show, three artists present distinct methods and processes that may be understood in various ways. Magadlela’s “Wabana lapho isifebe, wangena kuso” employs pantyhose on canvas to great effect; Katz uses bed wiring and Mbamba uses acrylics within the context of torn pages from Norwegian fashion magazines.

Dream Rift At Eclectica Design & Art Dream Rift At Eclectica Design & Art

PERCEPTION is often no more than a construction, be it natural/genetic or social/environmental. The value of art lies in its reminding us that perception can be reconstructed, revised and perhaps understood or simply appreciated as esoteric. One way in which such an evaluation can take place is by highlighting the permeable boundary between dreams and what is referred to as reality. Could it be that reality is a mass delusion? Such speculations arrive at satisfactory visual analogues in the form of the artworks on show, each artist developing his/her own language in what can be conceived as an interrogation of the liminal space between the real and the imagined and ultimately between life and death.


CROSS POLLINATION - A Solo Show by Lars Fischerdick at Eclectica Contemporary CROSS POLLINATION - A Solo Show by Lars Fischerdick at Eclectica Contemporary

INNOVATIVE methods, strong intellectual content and guttural undercurrents, these works by Lars Fischerdick are likely to ignite conversation around such a unique aesthetic. Having turned to art full-time rather late, his architectural background has certainly come in handy. It allows for an understanding of materials and for powerful craftsmanship. Yet, rather than be dictated by utilitarian and functional interests as is unavoidable in the applied arts such as architecture, here there are excursions and flights of the imagination that touch on metaphysics, mathematics, physics and even history and politics. In conversation with the artist, such dimensions become apparent.


SITUATED in the beautiful Franschoek, I was happy to see the work of Kali van der Merwe. Powerful and profound, her work stirs one’s senses and reason in terms of philosophical speculation on the question concerning the relationship between life and death. Based on relics and bodies that she encounters on her farm residence, she has created images of uncanny scientific, taxidermical and magical qualities. There is a sense of structure and order, yet one “imposed” beyond the assumed categories of the sciences. Her path therefore is embraces both a desire to know nature and one that is in awe of – and complicit with – the unfolding of the natural and cosmological realms.


More News
Nelson Mandela University, Rhodes celebrate award of SACO 2 tender Nelson Mandela University, Rhodes celebrate award of SACO 2 tender

NELSON Mandela University and Rhodes University are celebrating the institutional coup of the award of the South African Cultural Observatory tender by the Department of Arts and Culture to a consortium of four South African universities.

Fourth Annual Fruits of Democracy Awards Fourth Annual Fruits of Democracy Awards

THE Fruits of Democracy Awards, established in 2015, aspires to be a cultural marker in Nelson Mandela Bay where young movers and shakers of the Eastern Cape converge to be recognised for the excellence they display in the work that they do in different sectors.

Rhodes University joins consortium in SACO tender win Rhodes University joins consortium in SACO tender win

A FIVE-YEAR tender to run the South African Cultural Observatory (SACO) has been granted to a consortium of universities including Rhodes University, Nelson Mandela University, University of Fort Hare, and the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Nelson Mandela University wins coveted SACO contract Nelson Mandela University wins coveted SACO contract

NELSON Mandela University together with a consortium of three university partners have been awarded a multi-year contract to advance the operations of the South African Cultural Observatory (SACO) and support the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC).

New directions: Five years, five key goals New directions: Five years, five key goals

PASSIONATE creative economy champion and researcher, Unathi Lutshaba, has been appointed Executive Director of the South African Cultural Observatory after a consortium of Universities led by Nelson Mandela University won a five year tender to ensure South Africa’s creative economy is well mapped, understood and analysed. Here are her key goals for the next five years.

Connect with us