Posts Tagged ‘matric’

What is the definition of Spiritual?

http://www.artthrob.co.za/07jan/listings_kzn.html

Sibusiso Duma, When we were young, acrylic on board

 ‘ … the way some person lived within his or her historical context a chosen religious ideal in sensitivity to the realm of the spirit or the transcendent’. – Walter Principe

The definition by Principe is the definition from which most current definitions of what is spiritual is derived from. What we understand today as “being spiritual” is actually a relatively new but shifting concept to define that which is purely spiritual as opposed to that which is religious.

The modern connotations of what is spiritual originated from the thoughts of several religious thinkers in their attempts to relocate authentic religion outside or beyond the sphere of churches and institutions. The word spiritual was actual very rare in historical texts. (Ref) The attempt to define what is spiritual is parallel to the development of intellectual thinking, or stems from the time when ordinary mortals first realized that we have the power to inquire into the hidden nature of the universe. In earlier cultures there would have been no need to define what is spiritual. The question, ‘what is spiritual’ is thus really a more modern Western concept.

http://www.artthrob.co.za/05nov/listings_cape.html

Zwelethu Mthethwa, Guardian Angels, 2004, Oil pastel on pape

The word spiritual is derived from the Hebrew word Ruach, the  Latin word spiritualitas and the Greek word Pneuma. All three has the original base meaning of ‘moving air’ – whether in the form of breath, a breeze, or violent storm winds, or that which animates life. Most English bibles translates ruach as spirit. Immaterial beings are called ruachot; such ghosts, and angelic beings and spirits. Ruach has also been translated as ‘mind’, in the sense of thoughts, convictions, dispositions, drive even courage. (Ref)

According to the Greek philosopher Anaximenes, “just as our soul (psyche), being air (aer), holds us together, so do breath (pneuma) and air (aer) encompass the whole world.”

With this in mind one can perhaps define spiritual as shifting definition for that which is transcendent, unseen, except in unusual circumstance, but which nonetheless has a visible effect and without which there would be no life.

More useful concepts for defining spiritual:

What is a Belief?

Whatever an individual is willing to subjectively accept without direct verification by experience or without the support of evidence, resulting in assumption which is taken as a basis for action or non-action.

What is a Belief System?

A belief system is the actual set of precepts or principles, upon which a person base and live their daily life, and governs an individual’s thoughts, words, and actions. Without these precepts you could not function.

Allegory

Allegory is a device in which characters or events represent or symbolize ideas and concepts. Allegory has been used widely through out the history of art, and in all forms of artwork. A reason for this is that allegory has an immense power of illustrating complex ideas and concepts in a digestable, concrete way. For example, this function of the device is possibly most evident in Christian doctrine, where Satan symbolizes evil and God symbolizes good. The concept of goodness is portrayed as a character, and his behaviour and intentions follow suit with this goodness. Therefore, in allegory a message is communicated by means of symbolic figures, actions or symbolic representation. Allegory is generally treated as a figure of rhetoric; a rhetorical allegory is a demonstrative form of representation conveying meaning other than the words that are spoken.(Ref)

Useful Questions to ask when analyzing Spiritual Art

What does the artist/culture believe?

In order to find out what belief system an artist operates from, or have adopted, certain questions must be asked. The core of what they believe starts with whether they Truly believe in one of the following.

  • A supreme being,

  • Just an existence beyond the physical of some kind

  • Nothing at all.

For those who believe in a Supreme Being, or God, how is the being depicted? How does the being communicate to people things they need to know, do, and be.
Is it that God only talks to a few people, or to everyone ?
Do you think cultural differences and personalities would affect the message?

Credo Mutwa, The Judgement of the Kings (1983)

Spiritual and religious works of art convey a non-verbal message, whichever form it takes, regardless of culture, religion, date or location. In the past, only the highly educated and members of the clergy were able to read. Visual imagery was thus used to convey spiritual ideas to the illiterate masses.

Spiritual Art

Spiritual Art visually depicts and communicates the artist’s spiritual beliefs, or reflects, or oppose, the spiritual doctrines of the ruling ideologies. It often reflects the desire to push “behind the veil of appearance” to the “other side” to seek “the hidden things in nature and life . . . the inner spiritual side of nature and life.” Mystical Art is created through the guidance of a spiritual being, or through visions received by the artist.

Introduction

One can very well say that most of the art from art history can be classified as spiritual art. It was only with Modernism and the Avant Garde art movements that spiritual art started to reflect the individual’s spiritual views. The first artists that produced cave paintings were likely to have been shamans or priests. Later religious art reflected the doctrine and symbolism of each particular belief system. Yet, just as each of the major religions will have regional interpretations, just so the religious art reflected the particular historical environment, culture and spiritual interpretations of their beliefs.

Christ Pantocrator, early 17’th century. Portable Icon. Work of Jeremiah Palladas Collection of the 4th Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities of the Dodecanese.

Early cultures used artwork to worship divine beings, and in the Middle Ages, artwork was used to canonize religious themes and spiritual leaders. During the Renaissance period, painted images began to gradually move away from society’s spiritual ideologies and become more and more individual. In modern times, artists have become completely independent from societal ideologies, and instead of communicating the realities of life, artwork has become a means for the artist to communicate personal ideologies and spiritual themes through visual and other elements. (Ref)

African Art

Lydenberg head, ca. A.D. 500-700

As Spirituality is always culturally formed and informed and the formation of spirituality is always cultural-contextual, Africa’s beliefs and religions reflects its multi-cultural context. Africa is a vast continent, incorporating a wide variety of cultures and ethnic groups. Northern Africa differs totally from Southern Africa.

Traditional African Beliefs

In traditional Africa life is not divided into compartments, with separate “spiritual” and “secular” components. Life as such is spiritual.

In (traditional) Africa, there is no division and/or differentiation between the animate and inanimate, between the spirit and matter, between living and non-living, dead and living, physical and metaphysical, secular and sacred, the body and the spirit, etc. Most Africans generally believe that everything (human beings included) is in constant relationship with one another and with the invisible world, and that people are in a state of complete dependence upon those invisible powers and beings. Hence, Africans are convinced that in the activities of life, harmony, balance or tranquillity must constantly be sought and maintained. AA Berinyuu

It has been suggested that African spiritual beliefs can be depicted as a triangle. At the top, head of all powers, is the Supreme Being. On the sides are the two greatest powers, gods and ancestors. Man is in the middle , and must live in harmony with all powers that affect his life, family and work. At the base are lower forces, with which magic and medicine are concerned. Ubunye (the unity of all reality) is kept intact through Amandla (power), which in turn operates within Ubuntu (community). In African spirituality it is all about the maintenance of equilibrium and therefore guarding against the loss of power.

Sibusiso Duma, Inkanyamba

Sibusiso Duma, Inkanyamba (According to traditional Xhosa beliefs, a strong winds takes the form of a giant winged snake, known as inkanyamba. This being lives in deep water and flies through the air, looking for its mate.)

Traditional African religion is based on oral traditions, which means that the basic values and way of life are passed from elders to younger generation. The elders are the final authority and are trusted completely. These traditions are not religious principles, but a cultural identity that is passed on through stories, myths and tales. (Ref)

Myth and symbol, ritual and rhythm determine everyday life in the African context.  The way people relate to the environment and the nature of inter-personal relationships are all part of the spiritual make-up of Africans. There exists a very thin line between the religious and the cultural phenomena in African cosmology. Religion and culture are inextricably intertwined. Most of the religious rituals are appropriated into the cultural scheme of things and the cultural domain shapes and influences the religious philosophy and practices.

Trevor Makhoba, “Circumcision”

Trevor Makhoba, “Circumcision”

Issues of moral behavioural patterns; natural plagues and disasters; familial inter-connectedness; domestic animals; fields (the land ethic) and several rites are directly linked to particular events in the life of the individual and the community together.

http://atlantisonline.smfforfree2.com/index.php?topic=11720.0

Lonyana Rock, Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa.

In traditional African religion the community is the most important part of someone’s life. This community is made up of people who remember and share the same traditions. This sense of unity with(in) the universe has been embedded in African spirituality since the dawn of time. It is depicted on many of the rock paintings that can be found throughout Southern Africa. In the example found at Lonyana Rock in KwaZulu-Natal the community is dancing around a sick person lying under a karos (animal skin). But the living animals are also there – the food stock. They seem to be moving in and out of the circle. Here, in one artwork, we find community, child care (women accompanying children), religion (expressed in the dance), medicine, work (hunting), etc. in an intertwined spirit of holism. This is indeed African spirituality. (Ref)

http://www.southafricalogue.com/travel-tips/sangomas-the-south-african-shamen.html

Sangoma throwing bones

There are spiritual leaders,who are the equivalent of shamans and priests  in most traditional African religions. These traditional healers have to be called by ancestors. They undergo strict training and learn many skills, including how to use herbs for healing and other, more mystical skills, like the finding of a hidden object without knowing where it is. (Ref)

Although traditional African religion recognises a Supreme God, followers do not worship him or her directly. They therefore ask the ancestors to communicate on their behalf. The Supreme Being is called upon in times of great hardship and need, like drought or epidemic that may threaten the entire community. The Supreme Being is the connection between people and their environment.

Ancestor worship

Ancestor worship and belief is an extension of a belief in and respect for elders. Followers of traditional African religion believe that ancestors maintain a spiritual connection with their living relatives.

Most ancestral spirits are generally good and kind. The only negative actions taken by ancestral spirits is to cause minor illnesses to warn people that they have gotten onto the wrong path. To please these unhappy ancestors, usually offerings of beer and meat are made. (Ref)

Adolphus Opara’s large-format, painterly images of diviners from regions of South-western Nigeria

African ritual art and artefacts

African art is a term typically used for the art of Sub-Saharan Africa, as the art of the North African areas along the Mediterranean coast has long been part of different traditions and for more than a millennium has mostly formed part of Islamic art, although with many particular characteristics. The Art of Ethiopia, with a long Christian tradition, is also different from that of most of Africa, where Traditional African religion(with Islam in the north) was dominant until relatively recently. (Ref)

As opposed to most Western art, African art serves a particular function rather than Art for Arts sake. The object may confer status, or serve a function that may be ceremonial, sacred, or practical. In the cycles of life, the rites of passage between them, are important as events for which objects are made.

http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/2957/Power_Figure_Nkisi_Nkondi/image/51090/detail

Power Figure (Nkisi Nkondi). Democratic Republic of the Congo. KaKongo Kongo artist, 19th century. Wood, iron, glass mirror, resin, pigment

For example, African spirituality is about power and empowerment, and often also the disempowerment of your enemies. This can also clearly be seen in African art. In the Congo, for instance, there are sculptures called nkisi nkondi (power figures). An nkisi nkondi serves as a container for potent ingredients used in magic and medicine in judicial and healing contexts. To make an nkisi nkondi, a carver begins by sculpting a male human or animal figure with a cavity in the abdomen. Then a ritual expert completes the work by placing ingredients with supernatural powers on the object and in the cavity provided. He activates the figure by breathing into the cavity and immediately seals it off with a mirror. Nails and blades are driven into the figure, either to affirm an oath or to destroy an evil force responsible for an affliction or disruption of the community. The pose, with hands on hips, symbolizes the nkondi’s readiness to defend a righteous person and to destroy an enemy. (Ref)

Dogon_People_of_Mali

Masks

Most masks are made not to look like real human faces. They are usually designed and created to provide somewhat of a shock value. They tend to convey various emotions such as sadness, anger or suspicion.

They play very different roles to the various tribes across the continent. They are normally kept in a safe- or sacred place, only to be brought out for important occasions and ceremonies.

Masks were and still are usually worn during various celebrations such as weddings, funerals, initiation ceremonies, and to entertain important visitors.

African masks are normally worn by men, however in some cultures women also own and perform in masks. One example will be during a ritual that initiates them into female society.

Masks can be worn on the head as helmets covering the entire head or as acrest, resting on top of the head, or simply a mask.

Niagara African Dancing Mask

The most common use of the African mask involves ritual dancing. This involves the dancer wearing a mask and full costume. Often there is singing and music in these rituals and the mask becomes a strong spiritual force. During some of these ritual dances, because of the power certain masks possess, some people are not allowed to look at them. (Ref)

Female Face Mask. Chokwe peoples, DR Congo or Angola. ca. 1930s. | Wood,pigment, reeds and fiber.

Main Visual Characteristics

Ife head, Ife, 12th-14th century.

There should be a balance between resemblance and likeness; a figure, for example, should be identifiable as a man, but not identifiable as a specific man. An object that bears a resemblance to the original model draws power from the original, which is desired, but not to be overdone. Individual portraiture is considered presumptuous and dangerous, because of the power that the object may contain.

Pendant Mask, Lyoba, Nigeria

Clarity of line and form. This gives the powerful graphic quality that is so characteristic of African art, and so attracted early European modernists. Strong angular edges to forms, smoothly polished planes and curves, and the angular protrusion of such features as lips, eyes, and nose accentuate these features.

Igbo Mask, Nigeria

Igbo Mask, Nigeria

Proportion; In much of African Art, proportions are scaled according to conceptual significance rather than the physical size. Thus the meaning and function of the object requires that emotional proportion supersede natural proportions. The head, for example in figure carvings, is often one-fourth the size of the body because in many African societies it is considered to be the seat of one’s destiny. It also provides a larger surface for culturally significant details that are conveyed through facial expressions, hairstyles, jewelry or scarification. In figural groups, the larger figures are clearly the most important.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_art

Nok terracotta, 6th century BC–6th century CE

Gesture and Expressions; The stance or facial expression of a sculpted figure often conveys clues into its meaning and significance. Hands resting on the abdomen may suggest the capacity to bear children. Downcast eyes may express dignity and poise, introspection and attention to a world beyond our own, while glaring eyes and a gaping mouth can signify power, trance (especially with bulging eyes), aggression or a call to action. (Ref)

Texture; Artwork’s surface can be smooth from frequent handling or textured from tool marks, paint or added materials. A sticky-looking object may have  received offerings at a shrine, its surface suggesting ritual use. objects that are densely covered with horns or porcupine quills, mud and other materials may represent powers from nature. By contrast a serene figure with polished surface may portray  someone who is stylish, civilized and cultured.

Colour and Pattern; Colours are frequently symbolic of important messages, though the meanings will vary from culture to culture. The most common colours used in African art are red, white and black.  Patterns which may also vary in meaning from culture to culture, provide insights into personal style and culturally specific aesthetics.

Spatial Relationships; How does the artwork relate to the space around it? Was it intended to stand on its own or was it once part of something else – like a place on a shrine? (Ref)

It is considered proper that persons be only depicted in the prime of life. For example, a memorial figure of an ancestor who died in old age must be shown as a young and vigorous person; to do otherwise would be insulting and also possibly dangerous.

The idea of the interrelatedness of forms is expressed through images that carry double, or even triple meanings. This idea reflect the religious idea that spiritual forces inhabit all of nature, all of which is interconnected. For example, a carved headdress from the Ibo people of Nigeria can be seen as a human torso, a bird, or a ram. These visual “puns” carry spiritual as well as humorous meanings.

Some African people do not designate aesthetic qualities at all. Since sculptures are consecrated and holy, all are considered equally beautiful, and it is therefore sacrilegious to pass judgement on the relative merits of particular items. (Ref)

Australian Aboriginal art

http://artmarketmonitor.com/tag/aboriginal/

Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri

Australian Indigenous art is the oldest ongoing tradition of art in the world. Initial forms of artistic Aboriginal expression were rock carvings, body painting and ground designs, which date back more than 30,000 years. Present day Aboriginals are descended from several groups that came to Australia via Asia when the land bridge still existed.

Art has always been an important part of Aboriginal life, connecting past and present, the people and the land, and the supernatural and reality. It includes works in a wide range of media including painting on leaves, wood carving, rock carving, sculpture, ceremonial clothing and sandpainting.

 Aborigines of all tribes painted and engraved on caves, rock, bark, sand, didgeridoos,  boomerangs and their huts, opossum fur coats & their bodies. Most art was meaningful.   Art was used in place of a written language to instruct in tribal law, religion and history. Each area of Australia has its traditional style of Art and Painting. Dot art is the traditional form of painting around a relatively small area of the Northern Territory and the eastern part of Western Australia. X-ray Art mainly comes from Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. (Ref)

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aboriginal_Art_Australia(3).jpg

Aboriginal Rock Art, Anbangbang Rock Shelter, Kakadu National Park, Australia

Characteristics

Often, aboriginal designs illustrate the “Dreamings” that underpin Aboriginal spiritual and cultural life. The human and other natural and animal images of Aboriginal art are representative of stories and/or dreams handed down from generation to generation. In Aboriginal art animal images, earth colours, and  drawing in patterns of dots, lines, and shapes are characteristic.(Ref)

http://news.usask.ca/archived_ocn/05-feb-04/events01.shtml

Symbols

Aboriginal symbols are an essential part of a long artistic tradition in Australian Aboriginal Art and remain the visual form to retain and record significant information. Aboriginal people used symbols to indicate a sacred site, the location of a waterhole and the means to get there, a place where animals inhabit and as a way to illustrate Dreamtime stories. Since Aboriginal people traveled vast distances across their country, significant information was recorded using symbols in regular ceremony. Sand painting and awelye (body painting) ceremonies kept the symbols alive and remembered. Later, these symbols were transformed into a more permanent form using acrylic on canvas but the meanings behind the symbols remains the same. Generally the symbols used by Aboriginal Artists are a variation of lines, circles or dots. Similar symbols can have multiple meanings and the elaborate combination of these can tell complex Aboriginal Dreamtime Stories. (Ref)

http://www.aboriginalartonline.com/culture/symbols.php

Aboriginal symbols

http://www.aboriginalartstore.com.au/aboriginal-art-culture/aboriginal-symbols-and-their-m.php

Denis Nelson Jupurrula, Kangaroo, Rain, Flying Ant, Possum Dreaming

This painting by Denis Nelson Jupurrula is a good example of an Aboriginal painting rich in Aboriginal symbols. This painting is titled Kangaroo, Rain, Flying Ant, Possum Dreaming. The bottom left of the painting shows the kangaroo tracks around a campfire (white circle). The smoke (white line) rises from the fire into the sky creating rain clouds (purple sky with symbols for rain). In the centre of the painting is the flying ant which migrates to form a new colony when the rains come. The possum tracks are shown on the left side of the painting in the yellow section. The U shape reflects the mark left behind by a person. Groups of U shapes would indicate a meeting place for aboriginal people sitting around a campsite.

Patterns of dots are used to represent many Aboriginal Dreamtime Stories – including stars or native berries. Aboriginal artists often use the technique of over-dotting to obscure meaning and to mask certain symbolism. (Ref)

Buddhist Art and Artifacts

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_art

Footprint of the Buddha. 1st century, Gandhara.

Buddhist art originated on the Indian subcontinent following the historical life of Siddhartha Gautama, 6th to 5th century BC, and thereafter evolved by contact with other cultures as it spread throughout Asia and the world. (Ref)

Aims of Buddhist Arts

Traditional Buddhist arts are intended to be reminders and inspiration pointing the individual towards the Buddhist principles, with no interest in personal fame or originality for its own sake, as this would be counter to Buddhist practice. Traditional Buddhist art forms were made to complement and enhance traditional practices found in temples, monasteries, centres, hermitages, the home and places of retreat.

These art forms can include wall and scroll paintings, sculpture, carvings, textiles, hand crafted ritual implements, illustrated sacred texts and poetry.

Characteristics

Early Buddhism did not portray the Buddha himself and may have been aniconic. The Buddha was only represented through symbols such as an empty throne, Bodhi tree, a riderless horse, Buddha’s footprints, and the dharma wheel. This reluctance towards anthropomorphic representations of the Buddha, and the sophisticated development of aniconic symbols to avoid it (even in narrative scenes where other human figures would appear), seem to be connected to one of the Buddha’s sayings, that discouraged representations of himself after the extinction of his body (Ref)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aniconism_in_Buddhism

An aniconic representation of Mara’s assault on the Buddha, with an empty throne, 2nd century, Amaravati, India

Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhist art frequently makes use of a particular set of eight auspicious symbols, in household and public art. These symbols have spread with Buddhism to many cultures’ arts, including Indian, Tibetan, Nepalese, and Chinese art. (Ref)

These symbols are:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Padma_(attribute)

The boy Buddha rising up from lotus. Crimson and gilded wood, Trần-Hồ dynasty, Vietnam, 14th-15th century

1.Lotus flower. Representing purity and enlightenment.

2. Endless knot, or, the Mandala. Representing eternal harmony.

3.The golden fishes symbolises the auspiciousness of all living beings in a state of fearlessness, without danger of drowning in the ocean of sufferings, and migrating from place to place freely and spontaneously, just as fish swim freely without fear through water.

4. The golden wheel symbolises the auspiciousness of the turning of the wheel of Buddha’s doctrine, both in its teachings and realizations, in all realms and at all times, enabling beings to experience the joy of wholesome deeds and liberation.

5. The treasure vase symbolises an endless rain of long life, wealth and prosperity and all the benefits of this world and liberation.

6. The umbrella or parasol representing detachment from illusion, representing the crown, and protection from the elements.

http://spiritualglobe.blogspot.com/2008/02/conch-shell-skt-shankha-tib-dung-dkar.html

7. The conch as a symbol which fearlessly proclaimed the truth of the dharma. It stands for the fame of the Buddha’s teaching, which spreads in all directions like the sound of the conch trumpet.

8. Victory Banner. Representing a victorious battle.

In later periods both the major schools of Buddhism have made great use of representational art, though Theravada temples and other sites typically concentrate on a single large sculpture of the Buddha, whereas Mahayana temples have larger numbers of images of a greater variety of figures with varying degrees of spiritual significance. However some schools, such as Zen Buddhism in Japan, have also shown a general tendency towards aniconism, though without specific prohibition of figurative images.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gautama_Buddha

A statue of the Buddha from Sarnath, 4th century CE

Mexican religious art

http://www.pitt.edu/~marsa/cv/images.html

Mexican Ex-Votos

Small tin paintings known as retablos (literally, “behind the altar”) were often displayed in the homes of devout Catholics in Mexico to honor patron saints. Near the end of the nineteenth century, the increased availability of colour lithographs and other inexpensive reproductions contributed to the decline of this tradition, but one form of retablo, the ex-voto, continues to be produced today by artists in a variety of media.

Ex-votos (from the Latin, meaning “according to a vow”) are offered to give thanks for an answered prayer. This testimonial, while a personal expression of gratitude, contributes to a public affirmation of belief since votive paintings are displayed in churches. There they testify to the efficacy of ritual as well as to the power of faith and the particular church or shrine. A dedication or description of the pictured event is typically written below the painting. (Ref)

http://www.folkart-crafts.org/chapter_3.htm

From Chucuito, Puno, Peru, Triptych with Virgin of Purification and various Saints. Early XIX century

This art form is found throughout Latin America, though Mexico particularly is known for its use of tin as the painting surface. The Peruvian retablos is normally in the form of three-dimensional wooden boxes, populated by a variegated world of gypsum figures. typically with peaked roofs.

http://peru-tripadvisors.blogspot.com/2012/11/Christmas-Fair-in-Cusco.html

Peruvian Retablo

Origins of the traditions

The tradition of offering a votive object to a god or a holy personage in thanks or petition dates back, in Europe, at least to the ancient Greeks. The Spanish brought the tradition to the Americas. Similar practices have been common in other parts of the world as well.

Retablos with their images of saints served the church’s desire to spread Christianity. Ex-voto paintings are said to have developed out of the need to express problems and concerns of the villagers or townspeople.

http://kostohryz.hypermart.net/salesite/art/art3.html#2

Ex-voto, 1894, oil on tin, Inscription; Luz Orosco became gravely ill with typhoid. She invoked the Most Holy Mother of Light and and became healthy, and in proof of gratitude offers this (ex-voto).

Characteristics

Retablos emphasized certain attributes of the saints and were typically copies of other saint images. The imagery of ex-votos, however, was created in response to the expressed desires of the person ordering the painting; style and subject varied greatly.

http://kostohryz.hypermart.net/salesite/art/art3.html#2

Ex-voto, 1890, oil on tin, Inscription; On the 31st day of March,1890, finding herself at the doors of the grave, Doña Jesus Coronel for reason of giving birth to a child and not finding any remedy, her husband Juan Pineda, with a true heart, prayed to the Most Holy Virgen Virgin of Sorrows that is venerated in the Santuario de Paila, and (thus) healed and in an act of thanks dedicates this retablo.

The bold use of colours in crafts and other constructions extends back to pre-Hispanic times. These were joined by other colours introduced by European and Asian contact, always in bold tones. Design motifs vary from purely indigenous to mostly European with other elements thrown in. Geometric designs connected to Mexico’s pre-Hispanic past are prevalent, and items made by the country’s remaining purely indigenous communities. Motifs from nature are popular, possibly more so than geometric patterns in both pre-Hispanic and European designs.(Ref)

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/exvotos/mexican.html

Doña Josefa Peres Maldonado offers this monument of her gratitude to the Most Holy Christ of Encino, venerated in the Church of Triana, and to the Most Holy Virgin Mary of El Pueblo, in perpetual memory of the benefit, due to her piety, that resulted from an operation that took place on 25th of April 1777, when the surgeon Don Pedro Maillé removed six cancerous tumors from her breast, in the presence of the gentlemen and ladies depicted on this canvas. Although the wound closed perfectly on the 25th of July 1777, other accidents befell her from which she died on Friday, the 5th of September, at 3 p.m., with clear signs of the patronage of the Holy Image and of her salvation.

Virgin of Guagalupe

Symbolism and mysticism may seem part of an earlier time, but in Mexico City, notions of magic and spirituality are very prominent pieces of a contemporary lifestyle.  Since 1531 the Virgin of Guagalupe has become the most powerful symbol for Mexicans, and her image is seen throughout the Americas as a figure of hope, peace, and salvation.

http://www.praytherosaryapostolate.com/virginofguadalupe.htm

Lady of Guadalupe

The Virgin of Guadalupe was absolutely fundamental in the creation of modern Mexico – a uniting force in a tumultuous time of European conquest.  The European Catholic image of the Virgin Mary assumes characteristics of the indigenous religion to create a unique mix of two traditions, like the culture of modern Mexico. La Virgen appeared to a young indigenous man on Tepeyac Hill in 1531 and now, each year, thousands of pilgrims embark on a pilgrimage to honour the woman referred to as the Queen of Mexico.  Pilgrims come from all walks of life and each has their own interpretation on the meaning of the Virgin of Guadalupe.  Some pilgrims ascend the hill on their knees to show extreme devotion and penitence, others travel as families. (Ref)

Mexican Ex-votive

References

Aboriginal Art Treasures
http://www.aboriginalarttreasures.com/history.php

Aboriginal Art Online
http://www.aboriginalartonline.com/culture/symbols.php

Aboriginal Art Store
http://www.aboriginalartstore.com.au/aboriginal-art-culture/aboriginal-symbols-and-their-m.php

Artlyst
http://www.artlyst.com/articles/alinka-echeverrias-mexican-spirituality-adornes-london-gallery

African Spirituality
http://worldreligion.nielsonpi.com/8african.html

D. Alexander, Buddhism and the Arts
http://faithandthearts.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Buddhism-and-the-Arts.pdf

David E. Anderson, Anecdotes of the Spirit
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/episodes/by-topic/art/anecdotes-of-the-spirit/6500/

All About African Art
http://www.all-about-african-art.com/

Brooklyn Museum of Art
http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/african_art

Johan Cilliers, Formations and Movements of Christial Spirituality in Urban African Contexts http://academic.sun.ac.za/tsv/Profiles/Profile_documents/Johan_Cilliers_AFRICAN_SPIRITUALITY.pdf

Fowler Museum at UCLA
http://www.fowler.ucla.edu/curriculum/intersections/lesson21

Hebrew Streams, Ruach Studies
http://www.hebrew-streams.org/works/spirit/ruachpneuma.html

How to Look at African Art
http://africa.si.edu/exhibits/mosaic/howtolook.pdf

Charlotte Jirousek, African Art
http://char.txa.cornell.edu/nonwest/africa/africahi.htm

Mariolina Salvatori, University of Pittsburgh
http://www.pitt.edu/~marsa/cv/images.html

South African History – Traditional Beliefs
http://www.sahistory.org.za/african-traditional-religion

Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indigenous_Australian_art
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_art
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_art
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexican_art
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirituality
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tribal_art

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William Kentridge

Biography

I was six years old and my father was one of the lawyers for the families who had been killed (in the Sharpeville massacre). I remember once coming into his study and seeing on his desk a large flat, yellow Kodak box, and lifting the lid of it – it looked like a  chocolate box. Inside were images of a woman with back blown off, someone with only half her head visible. – Kentridge

To William Kentridge the box became a perfect metaphor for South Africa’s recent history. As an artist and film-maker, his life and career have been spent constantly contemplating and re-examinig South Africa’s recent history; the light and darkness that are both outside and within it and the essential incompleteness of its victims and those who observe or engage in this victimization.

Tide Table, 2003/04

Kentridge was born in 1955 into a wealthy Johannesburg family, descendants of Jewish refugees from the purges and pogroms of Russia and Europe.  (The term “pogrom” became commonly used in English after a large-scale wave of anti-Jewish riots swept through south-western Imperial Russia, present-day Ukraine and Poland, from 1881 to 1884.)  For generations the family had been deeply involved in politics and human rights issues in South Africa. Both his parents were lawyers, famous for their defense of victims of the apartheid.

From Felix in Exile, 1994

“My grandfather was a member of Parliament for 40 years. Obviously we’re talking here South Africa, a whites only parliament. I grew up in a family that was very involved with the legal battles against apartheid—the great treason trials in the 1950s and early ’60s, and later with the legal resources center that my mother founded. My father was involved with a number of very prominent cases that had political aspects to them, whether it was the inquest into the Sharpeville Massacre, the death of Steve Biko, or one of the trials of Nelson Mandela.” —William Kentridge

In 1976, he attained a degree in Politics and African Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand after which he studied art at the Johannesburg Art Foundation until 1978. There, he met Dumile Feni whose drawings had a major impact on Kentridge’s work.

By the mid-1970s Kentridge was making prints and drawings. In 1979, he created 20 to 30 monotypes, which became known as the “Pit” series. In 1980, he executed about 50 small-format etchings which he called the “Domestic Scenes”. These two groups of prints served to establish Kentridge’s artistic identity, an identity he has continued to develop in various media. Despite his ongoing exploration of non-traditional media, the foundation of his art has always been drawing and printmaking. (Ref)

Domestic Scenes, individual print of plate 3, the self-portrait of the artist on the sofa (1980). Mixed-method etching

Kentridge became involved in theatre by collaborating with the Junction Avenue Theatre Company and in 1979 he directed his first comedy entitled Will of Rebel based on the life of South African writer Breyten Breytenbach. He also worked as a set designer for film productions and taught design printing until he moved to Paris in 1981.

For three years Kentridge abandoned drawing to study mime and acting at the École Jacques Lecoq in Paris. In 1984 he went back to drawing and produced a series of large works on paper that showed the influence of his experience as an experimental filmmaker.

Kentridge Art in2

Art in a State of Grace, Art in a State of Siege, Art in a State of Hope, 1988, Silkscreen

 Between 1989 and 2003 Kentridge made a series of nine short films that allegorize South Africa’s political upheavals, gathered under the title Drawings for Projection.

 In 1992, he also began collaborating, as set designer, actor, and director of the Handspring Puppet Company. The Company created multi-media pieces using puppets, live actors and animation. It performed plays like Woyzeck, Faust and King Ubu that reflect on colonialism, and human struggle between the past, modernity and ethics.

 Throughout his career, William Kentridge has been involved in politics, fine art, theater, film, and television—moving beyond the specific political issues of  South Africa to address the human condition, exposing the nature of memory, emotion, and social conflict. (Ref)

Here’s a short documentary on Kentridge; influences, themes, symbolism, metaphors and techniques of his work. 

Part 1

Part 2

William Hogarth, Time smoking a picture, 1797

 Influences

Throughout his work one can identify a variety of artistic influences, both from South African as well as from the European continent. Kentridge has always had an ambivalent relationship to the influence of European art and culture, focused by his own German, Jewish and Lithuanian roots. The influence of satirists,  who provided critical commentary on their times and its social issues, such as Honoré Daumier, Francisco Goya and William Hogarth is clear. He also often used European classical themes as frameworks for contemporary South African subjects. Kentridge’s fusion of Expressionism, art and theatre finds its context in the interests of South Africa’s Resistance Art movement of the 1980s. (Ref)

Honoré Daumier, NADAR elevating Photography to Art, 1862

Kentridge’s obsession with drawing began when he met Dumile Feni.

Dumile Feni, The stricken household 1965

Dumile made remarkably strong demonic drawings, either in ballpoint pen on a smaller scale, or in charcoal on a large scale. That was the first time that I understood the power of figurative, large scle drawings – that they could be so striking … He had the capacity to express things on a scale that I thought drawings could not achieve. He is the key local artist that influenced me. – Kentridge

Dumile Feni, Horses, 1967

Dumile’s pivotal impact on Kentridge contrasts strongly with his youthful disinterest with the conceptual and minimal European and American art of the 1960s and 1970s, and specially the paintings of the New York School with which Kentridge was familiar with. To Kentridge the abstract expressionism of that era appeared to be stuck in abstractionist silence, apolitical and self-indulgent.

Non-figurative work look so apolitical to me, that painting seemed an impossible – Kentridge

South African General [ca. 1991], large drypoint print.

Geaorg Grosz

Kentridge thus went back into art history and found inspiration in the early 20th century German expressionist work of Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, Käthe Kollwitz, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Georg Grosz, the early 20th century French art and the Soviet filmmakers and designers of propaganda posters.

No escape from the people’s revenge! – 1941

Max Beckmann, Otto Dix and Käthe Kollwitz also used charcoal as a medium for social comment. According to Kentridge, for example,  his character Soho has its origins in the images of industrialists from Russian and the early Futurist propaganda drawings, of George Grosz and German Expressionism.

You behave!

Francisco de Goya , The sleep of reason produces monsters, 1799

Kentridge’s 1979 series of monoprints entitled the ‘Pit’ shows the earliest references to Goya both in the intentional awkward poses that the actors assume, and in the shadowy observers.

Max Beckman, Departures, Triptych,c.1944

His interest in the triptych format was inspired by Max Beckman and Francis Bacon. Beckmann, whose work express the agonies of Europe in the first half of the Twentieth Century reinvented the triptych and expanded this archetype of medieval painting into a looking glass of contemporary humanity.

Francis Bacon, Triptych 1973

In the triptych Kentridge recognized the possibilities to express his interest in the concepts of time, space, memory and change.

Firstly you have a series of images of the same place, but each is different because that space is occupied by a different center piece each time. Time has passed between each image, objects have been rearranged and even the viewpoint has changed slightly. Secondly, and far more importantly, is the dislocation of space … You set up the continuity between images and then refuse to let it happen. Working with drawings also has to do with story telling … There is no necessary continuity between the images. – Kentridge

Through the work he did as an art director on other people’s movies he realised that he could construct a drawing on the same principles that you would to  design a film; not be constrained by the normal demands of naturalistic perspective, space or lighting.

Kentridge’s films evoke the late silent cinema of Russian and German Expressionism, most directly in the predominance of black and white, the absence of dialogue, and the use of intertitles.

From Other Faces, 2011

Characteristics of his Work

Kentridge shows a distinctive vision of the complex history of South Africa, the legacy of apartheid and more broadly, the nature of human emotions and memory. Through his drawings, films, installations and sculpture, he reflects on the psychological landscape of South Africa which has experienced great upheaval, violence, racial and social injustice, the effects of colonialism and the politics of apartheid, and confronting acceptance of responsibility and the telling of truth.

Although Kentridge has created some works that directly refer to the political situation of South Africa during the late- and post apartheid era, the core of his artwork features a more complex framework for human thought and behaviors on an intimate level, filtred through his experience of Apartheid, the transitional period, and Post Apartheid.

‘I have never tried to make illustrations of apartheid, but the drawings are certainly spawned by and feed off the brutalized society left in its wake. I am interested in a political art, that is to say an art of ambiguity, contradiction, uncompleted gestures and uncertain things. An art (and a politics) in which my optimism is kept in check and my nihilism at bay.’ – William Kentridge

Though grounded in South Africa, his work resonates in more universal ways, exploring the relationship between desire, ethics, and responsibility, our changing notion of history and place, and how we construct and interpret these histories.

His interest in theatre continued throughout his career and clearly informs the dramatic and narrative character of his art as well as his interests in linking drawing and film. His work as a draughtsman has been expressionistic and dominated by pastel and charcoal, and generally the drawings are conceived as the basis of animated films.(Ref)

Exhibition curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, described Kentridge’s work as ‘an elegiac art that explores the possibilities of poetry in contemporary society, and provides a powerful satirical commentary on that society, while proposing a way of seeing life as a continuous process of change rather than as a controlled world of facts’. Suzanne Blier calls his work poetic grenades.

Although he derives many images and forms from well known masterpieces of Western Art, Kentridge also uses found images from press photographs, advertisements or books.

Arc/Procession: Develop, Catch Up, Even Surpass 1990

Themes

The overall theme of Kentridge’s works could be summarised as: how political realities impact on individual lives, or the extent to which politics does or does not find its way into the private realm. According to Kentridge his work is “a portrait of Johannesburg,” filtered through the internal conflict of an individual. His work explores colonial oppression and social conflict, loss and reconciliation, and the ephemeral nature of both personal and cultural memory.

“Forgetting is natural, remembering is the effort one makes.” William Kentridge

Memory and erasure / remembering and forgetting

Kentridge’s work focuses on the way forgetting and remembering are closely intertwined. He believes that past events fade into the distant background of our minds, yet our identity is shaped by this forgetting.

Kentridge’s technique of rubbing out parts of one drawing and making the next drawing over the top is a metaphor for this process of ‘disremembering’. This process has been coined by art critics as ‘partial erasure‘ because not everything in the drawing is erased. The resulting layers of partially erased marks could be interpreted as layers of memory as well as the traces of the past in the form of abandoned mining and civil engineering structures around Johannesburg.

Kentridge’s theme of remembering and forgetting is closely tied to events in South Africa, in particular the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This tribunal was set up in 1996 to investigate the crimes committed under Apartheid. It had the duel role of ensuring that past injustices are not forgotten and to enable the South African people to move on. While the themes of remembering and forgetting are played out through individual characters in his films Kentridge presents this as universal condition.

Images from Zeno Writing, 2002

Images from Zeno Writing, 2002

Relationship between personal and public; Kentridge’s art explores the way personal issues mix with broader social and political questions. For example, Zeno Writing (2002) brings together drawings, documentary footage from World War I, and filmed cigarette smoke to ask two questions: How does one bring this external world into everyday life? And: How do the larger questions of the world become part of one’s psyche?

Shadows; Shadows began in William Kentridge’s practice as shapes cast by animated figures in his films. Later shadows become a subject matter in themselves.

Still from Journey to the Moon, 2003

Shadows are created using devices such as torn pieces of paper and everyday objects like a coffee pot or scissors which feature in his films and drawings. In Journey to the Moon (2003) for example, the shadow of a coffee pot becomes a space ship. The sculptural work Procession(2000) features 26 figures cast in bronze modelled on the shapes formed by shadows.

Shadow functions as an indirect or oblique view of something. It is used as a metaphor in Kentridge’s practice for the relationship between the past and the present, the often confusing space between what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’ and the fact that we all carry the potential seed of our own demise.

The Battle Between Yes and No, 1989, Screen print

Kentridge’s use of Comedy and Satire; In Kentridge’s film some of his imaginative graphic transformations are comic or tragi-comic. In Sobriety, Obesity and Growing Old (1991) Soho Eckstein, the archetypal businessman, is lying in bed with his cat. The cat suddenly jumps on his face and becomes a gas mask.

His comedy plays on the contrast between rational outcomes and illogical expectations, or the reverse, confounding our expectations. What happens is unexpected or what is expected never happens.

Range of media in Kentridge’s art practice

While drawing is at the heart of his practice he works across a range of media and disciplines including writing, poetry, directing, opera, engraving, painting, printmaking, theatre design and acting.

His technique is linked to his thinking about politics and his worldview; “The thing with charcoal is you can find the form; you keep adjusting it, you rub it out, you redraw it”. This thinking and rethinking, drawing and redrawing, in the process of embodying a complex idea, is the foundation of Kentridge’s craft. For Kentridge “ drawing is a process of constructing meaning.”

The swiftness of his construction and the shifting provisional worldview that underpins it, is like living in South Africa.

Detail from Kentridge’s “7 Fragments for Georges Melies”

What does it mean to say that something is a drawing - as opposed to a fundamentally different form, such as a photograph? First of all, arriving at the image is a process, not a frozen instant. Drawing for me is about fluidity. There may be a vague sense of what you’re going to draw but things occur during the process that may modify, consolidate or shed doubts on what you know. So drawing is a testing of ideas; a slow-motion version of thought. It does not arrive instantly like a photograph. The uncertain and imprecise way of constructing a drawing is sometimes a model of how to construct meaning. What ends in clarity does not begin that way (Kentridge, 2003)

His style is sketchy showing obvious mark making, primarily in symbolic black and white. His use of primarily black and white not only focus his work on the narrative of the images, but it also reflects the divisions in a social political environment as well as personal internal divisions of his subjects. Although colour plays a relatively small role throughout his work, he incorporates traces of primarily red and blue in his work.

He chooses not to paint because in his view , the medium itself is too assertive; he is more interested in the narrative than in the work’s materiality. His working process itself is essential to the outcome. The drawing fluctuates in form, developing organically and changing, while his eraser acts as to accent, to edit and to modify the charcoal and pastel marks.

If (a) choice has been shattered between the two rooms, what space is between them, what kind of viable way can there be? – Kentridge – Stereoscope

Metaphors and Symbolism in his Work

By using metaphor the unknown is defined by the known. The onlooker thus recognizes a metaphor on the grounds of his existing knowledge and experience of the world and reality and he knows that the metaphorical statement to be literally impossible and/or feasible. (Ref)

Although Kentridge draws on his perceptions of the South African experience, his expression of his themes is humanist and reflects issues beyond South Africa’s contemporary history. He communicates by means of metaphors; and with repeated use, his pictorial motifs have become a personal hieroglyphic code, a shorthand conveying multiple messages and performing varying functions in the narrative. The inconstancy of ironic meanings, the deliberate conceptual ambiguities and the wealth of artistic allusions all contribute to the density of his texts. They remain open to alternative interpretations, but they become more legible to viewers who are familiar with his work.

Light and Dark; To Kentridge the physical and metaphysical qualities of light, dark and shadows is a way of thinking about the world and how perspectives of memory is gained or lost in the passage of time.

From Stereoscope" (1999)

From Stereoscope” (1999)

Metamorphosis: In Kentridge’s films the function of metamorphosis is to connect different events, plots and images, which in turn connects different scenes of time and space. Through the transitional stage of metamorphosis, the gap between the illogical or unexpected images unfold without obstacle.

Shadows in Kentridge’s work, implies a split self; reflecting the roles we play in life and the illusory ideal self, similar to the Jungian psychological concept of shadow, for example; his characters Soho and Felix are two different sides of one character rather than two fundamentally different characters.

According to Kentridge, “one‟s relationship to one‟s own shadow – which is not the same as oneself, which one does not own, but which is an inescapable attribute and accompaniment” is a “midpoint between a familiar self and the otherness of the rest of the world”.

From – Stereoscope

Objects and architecture in his work most often date back to the 1950s period, reflecting according to Kentridge, that a lot of his work is trying to mine a childhood set of responses to the world.

The first time you see a picture of violence there is a kind of shock that you don’t get once you’ve seen thousands of pictures like this on television. There is an element of trying to go back to an earlier stage, of trying to recapture the sensitization, and I think part of the images of drawing backwards in time has to do with trying to capture a different way of seeing. (Ref)

From – History of the Main Complaint, 1996

The act of looking, is a crucial motif in his art practice. Literal examples of this motif are the pair of eyes reflected in a rear-view mirror in The History of the Main Complaint or the colonial land surveying equipment through which Nandi and Felix Teitlebaum view each other in Felix in Exile. For Kentridge, however, what one chooses to represent in the world has always been as valuable as how one chooses to represent it.

His series of animations were called  Drawings for Projection. which is a concept, according to Kentridge, of how an object is viewed. A tree for example has as many projections as it is viewed. Each person sees the same object in a different way, so that one object may have thousands of projections. Reversely, for Kentridge each one of us is also a projection station.

From – Felix in Exile, 1994

For Kentridge “what we do when we look through a camera lens” can be regarded “as a metaphor for what we do when we look through our own lives”: we may “understand the artificial nature of looking through a camera, but we don‟t understand the unnatural activity of looking when we are just looking, how when we look it is not simply a matter of the world coming into us, but it is us constructing the natural world as we understand it.”

Camera (Central Boiler Station), 2010. Indian ink, charcoal and pastel on page from central boiler station ledger book.

Drawing from Tide Table: Officers with Binoculars. 2003

Other objects used for viewing, like the stereoscope works as a surrogate for the camera. Like the X-ray, the theodolite, the M.R.I., the cat scan, binoculars, and other instruments that have appeared in his works, which represent different ways of seeing, and different ways to represent the world. To Kentridge this is a way of understanding the world through a representation; an actual X-ray or M.R.I., again, is one way, and the stereoscope is another way to understand the world.

The megaphone, that often appears as part of his iconography was inspired by seeing Lenin using a megaphone. A megaphone is also an object that have become iconic in resistance art images. In Kentridge’s work the megaphone may stand for a symbol of faceless power and dictatorship or may simply represent the artist’s own voice.

Cambio 1999

Self-portraiture; The incorporation of Kentridge’s own figure, is never simple self-portraiture, but a means whereby the artist acknowledges personal and collective responsibility. It is also a clear declaration of a preoccupation with the human condition that makes his work both social and general.

William Kentridge. Drawing for the film Stereoscope, 1998–99

Presenting the male figure in the nude implies that the character is unconventional, or ‘outside culture.’ In contrast with accepted norms, where it is ok to depict women in the nude as representations of beauty, it is more important for white men to be clothed.

Characters; Many of the characters in Kentridge’s films become symbolic representations. The characters of Ubu and Soho Eckstein symbolise an Apartheid vision of South Africa and the darker side in us all.

Kentridge’s films generally focus on individual characters. Thus thematics in Kentridge’s art evolve through the device of characterisation. There are two main characters who appear in most of the films: Soho Eckstein who is a Johannesburg industrialist and Felix Teitelbaum who is the sensitive poetic type and an artist. While Soho and Felix are drawn as separate characters, they represent different sides of the same person and more universally our own alter egos.

Other characters include Faustus and Zeno, both tragicomic figures who struggle with their own idea of themselves as opposed to how they appear to others.

Another two important characters in Kentridge’s films include Nandi, and Harry who is the leader of the poor and oppressed.

William Kentridge, An Embarkation. Charcoal on paper, 1988

Landscape: Kentridge has written extensively on concepts of landscape and memory. Kentridge draws a parallel between the exploitation of the natural landscape and that of South Africa’s people under Apartheid. History, memory, geography and identity constantly shift and change.

‘Drawing is not unlike the structure and evolution of the South African landscape.’

He has discussed the long tradition of the South African landscape in paintings and in particular the celebratory landscapes of Jan Volschenk (1853-1936), and J.H. Piemeef (1886-1957). Kentridge calls their versions of the South African landscape “documents of disremembering.”. He has also cited how the landscape of Auschwitzbears bears little to no trace of the World War II carnage. In early “American” painting and the Hudson River School, acts of disremembering were the feature characteristics of the art. Idyllic settings provided a corollary to American ideals of Manifest Destiny and the taming of the rustic outdoors, including the Native Americans in their way. It is in this light (or shadow) that Kentridge’s work can be seen. (Ref)

From Felix in Exile

“The landscape hides its history . … there is a similarity between a painting or drawing—which is oblivious to its position in history—and the terrain itself, which also hides its history”. By creating “imperfect” works filled with smudged images and traces of what has been erased, Kentridge’s work counters this “hiding” or absorption of history by the landscape.

In an introductory note to Felix In Exile, Kentridge writes, “In the same way that there is a human act of dismembering the past there is a natural process in the terrain through erosion, growth, dilapidation that also seeks to blot out events. In South Africa this process has other dimensions. The very term ‘new South Africa’ has within it the idea of a painting over the old, the natural process of dismembering, the naturalization of things new.”

In his work he never forgets the bodies that are now only streetlamps or steel girders.

In his open landscapes, such as in the Embarbarkation for example, the vista and the endless space sets a mood of loneliness and loss.

‘Felix in Exile’ (Death of Nandi), 1994

The film Felix in Exile (1994) which was made just before the first  general election in South Africa, and questioned the way in which the people who had died on the journey towards South Africa becoming a democratic state would be remembered. He uses the landscape as a metaphor for the process of remembering and forgetting. For example in Felix in Exile, Nandi, observes the land with surveyor’s instruments, watching African bodies, with bleeding wounds, which melt into the landscape. She is recording the evidence of violence and massacre that is part of South Africa’s recent history. Kentridge thus makes the connection between how landscape forms and erodes and how our sense of history (i.e. what is remembered and what is forgotten) is malleable.

Red: In “ Felix in Exile, ” red color is used extensively in Nandi’s depictions of landscape. The places where the corpses lay, as well as their wounds, were marked clearly in red. Red symbolizes blood, wounds, death, and violence. For example, when Nandi was shot down on the ground, the blue water flowing down from the faucet turned red. It is a declaration of Nandi’s death. The dark red blood flowing out from the old wounds of the unknown corpse is a silent narrative of South Africa’s violent history

Blue: Blue is associated with peace, waiting, hope, retrospection, and sorrowfulness. In “ History of the Main Complaint, ” a pail with blue water is placed in a corner close to Soho’s bed in the hospital. Here, blue water symbolizes redemption and hope.

Stereoscope,” 1998–99

Water: In his dominant palette of black and white, the occasional touches of blue often signifies water and water’s ambiguous sensual fluidity and capacity to renew. Blue water further symbolises emotions, emotional connection and healing in his films.

Felix in Exile, the flood of blue water in the hotel room, brought about by the process of painful remembering, symbolises tears of grief and loss and the Biblical flood which promises new life. (Ref)

… mental pictures are like reflections in water … the reflection is not like  the original, nor the images like the real object – Aristotle

Another possible symbolic meaning of water is “ seeing one’s own reflection. ” This echoes - that everyone is seeking his/ her missing half. To him, the so-called “ missing half ” is the forgotten memory and conscience, in other words, the kindness and innocence inherent in humanity.

In Kentridge’s films, water, dream and drawing imply each other. They are metaphors for love that is out of reach, forgotten memory and history, dreams in the past and future, eternal redemption, or the missing half.

Fish: Within the context of Johannesburg 2nd Greatest City after Paris water as an element becomes, a medium for sensuality and freedom and the fish becomes a metaphor for love. The fish symbol is also repeated in Kentridge’s other animation films. (Ref)

http://www.artthrob.co.za/05editions/profile014.html

Untitled, 2007 Lithograph and collage

Rhino; The rhino is a symbol of an exploitative, colonialist view of Africa, a symbol for the subjugation of a continent stripped of its natural resources for European benefit. This was developed previously in an earlier animation, Mine (1991), in which Soho Eckstein, the mine owner, digs up a whole social and ecological history out of the earth and receives a miniature rhino from the miners, African heritage reduced to a trinket, as he drinks his morning cup of coffee.(Ref)

Hyena; The symbolism of hyenas in South Africa is associated with evil, dark spirits and mischief. It became a prominent symbol in Resistance art in South Africa, as symbols of repression and oppression, and often stand in for oppressive authorities.

kentridge other faces 2

Technique used in his animated films

Animation literally means to bring to life. This happens when still images or
drawings are combined to simulate the illusion of movement. This technique
literally personifies the drawings or photographs to tell the story by means of
the visual element. Dialogue, sound and colour can be added to enhance the
illusion. (Ref)

Drawing is a testing of ideas – a slow-motion version of thought. It does not arrive instantly like a photograph. The uncertain and imprecise way of constructing a drawing is sometimes a model of how to construct meaning. What ends in clarity does not begin that way. Kentridge

The animated films of William Kentridge evolved when he decided to record the process of creating a drawing. Rather than starting with an idea that is then executed, Kentridge relies on these freeform processes and the resulting juxtapositions to find connections and raise questions. (Ref) He does not work out the story board of the film before he begins, it rather develops in the process of making the film, or in the process of making a drawing. According to Kentridge, all his work begins with the impulse or the desire to draw.  His technique is more about making a drawing than making a film.

He uses a sheet of paper hanging on the wall, onto which he makes drawings that will be modified and photographed hundreds of times. Unlike the commercial technique of cell animation, which uses a new drawing for every frame of film, Kentridge’s animation technique is simple and primitive: he draws and adjusts his rough charcoal drawings in succession  by the -introduction of new marks (re-drawing), or the erasure of pre-existing ones by using an eraser or a cloth. He then shoots one or two frames, goes back to the drawing, changes it, goes back to the camera, and so on. By erasing certain areas of a drawing and re-drawing, he creates the next frame.

There are not thousands of drawings, as you would have in commercial animation technique, only 20 to 40 different ones, which are the key frames for the major sequences.

To shoot the next scenes, he reworks a drawing or draws a new one and continues the filming process. By using this sequential animation technique, Kentridge creates movement within the context of time and space. Several of these large drawings may be needed for a single scene. Through this process,  a whole new set of drawings are created that Kentridge believes he would never have arrived at otherwise. The actual filming process becomes a way of arriving at a set of drawings. (Ref)

The elements of line and tone, especially in the broad strokes of his large drawings, are equivalents for, rather than simulations of the reality that a pictorial language based in colour would produce.

His erasure technique leaves grey smudges, ghost images and traces of the whole progress of each sequence on the paper. Filming not only records the changes in the drawing but also reveals the history of those changes. Traces of what has been erased are still visible to the viewer. As the film unfolds, a sense of fading memory or the passing of time and the traces it leaves behind are portrayed. These traces capture the passing of time and the layering of events in remembrance, so that it becomes a metaphor for how events fades in memory, or how all that is left of historical events in the landscape is just traces. (Ref)

Kentridge’s drawings explore the borders between memory and amnesia, drawing and erasure. The process of re-drawing and erasure means that each drawing is poised in a state of uncertainty. Each stage of the drawing carries with it the visual memory and history of its recent past. (Ref)

His technique is likened to palimpsests, or also called  inedited technique. This animation on a palimpsest allows for great freedom in developing the concepts of history, memory, loss, and renewal, all of which arise in Kentridge’s examination of the social climate in South Africa.

In all of his animated works the concepts of time and change comprise a major theme, which he conveys through his erasure technique. Unlike the  conventional cel-shaded animation, whose seamlessness de-emphasizes the fact that it is actually a succession of hand-drawn images. Kentridge’s technique grapples with what is not said, what remains suppressed or forgotten but can easily be felt. (Ref)

http://www.art21.org/anythingispossible/slideshow/on-animated-films/

William Kentridge. 9 Drawings for Projection (1989–2003), 2005.

Synopsis and Background of Drawings for Projection

Between 1989 and 2003 Kentridge made a series of nine short films that allegorize South Africa’s political upheavals through the lives of three characters: a greedy property developer, his neglected wife and her poet lover. He eventually gathered the films under the title Drawings for Projection. In 1989, he began the first of those animated movies, Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City After Paris. The series runs through Monument (1990), Mine (1991), Sobriety, Obesity & Growing Old (1991), Felix in Exile (1994), History of the Main Complaint (1996), Weighing and Wanting (1998), and Stereoscope (1999), up to Tide Table (2003) and Other Faces, 2011.

Over the course of the films, Kentridge tells the story of Soho Eckstein, Mrs. Eckstein and Felix Teitlebaum. The early films focus on Soho’s expansion of his mining empire on the outskirts of Johannesburg and his struggle with Felix Teitlebaum over his wife. In Sobriety, Obesity & Growing Old, the loss of his wife induces feelings of personal as well as social guilt. The fifth film (Felix in Exile) focusing on Felix entirely, and the next three turn back towards Soho and his struggle for forgiveness. Finally, in Stereoscope, Soho’s industrial success is undone by violent uprisings in the street, but he has regained the love of his wife. This brief synopsis of the films describes the framework, upon which Kentridge creates layer upon layer of meaning. (Ref)

The individual is taken as the starting point, around which Kentridge weaves the complexity of South African life during apartheid and post-apartheid into the narrative. In addition, this individual refers more than once to Kentridge himself, introducing an autobiographical element in his artwork. Telling the story starting from the trivial daily life of the three characters not only serves as an attractive feature for the audience, but also allows a symbolic interpretation indicative of the tunnel vision of a South Africa under international siege at the end of the Apartheid.

‘By the time this film [Johannesburg, 2nd  Greatest City after Paris (1989)] was made, worldwide pressure on South Africa to abolish the apartheid system had reached perhaps its greatest intensity, with any number of cultural and economic boycotts in place to isolate the nation as much as possible until it did so. By creating a film in which the main characters are caught up in seemingly pointless brooding about their personal affairs, Kentridge makes an important point about the peculiar form of tunnel vision characteristic of societies under siege. – Dan Cameron

The last three films explicitly tackle issues of memory and guilt. This story line cannot be interpreted without regarding the establishment of the The Truth and Reconciliation Committee, set up in the National Unity and Reconciliation Act of 1995. The Commission was established to provide a public forum for the victims of state racism to confront their perpetrators and to have the brutality of apartheid publicly exposed and admitted. The goal was to provide ‘as complete a picture as possible of the nature, causes and extend of gross human rights violations committed between March 1 1960 and December 5 1993.’

Without explicitly referencing to  the activities of the committee, it is clear that the story line of Kentridge’s film cycle has been consistently – be it consciously or subconsciously – been influenced by its existence.

While every film, as a separate entity, which allows for a number of connotations, one can distinguish the most significant layers of political meaning in the recurring themes  (Ref)

Images from Felix in Exile

Felix in Exile, 1994

In Felix in Exile, the fifth film of the series made between September 1993 and February 1994, Kentridge depicts the barren East Rand landscape as witness to the exploitation of and violence against both natural and human resources. Isolated in a hotel room, Felix peruses the survey charts of Nandi, a young black woman who maps the history of the terrain. Figures and structures are subsumed into the landscape or night sky, allegories for how the land can bear the scars of crimes against humanity.

Through his two main protagonists, Felix Teitlebaum (a sensitive, artistic everyman) and Soho Eckstein (the stereotypical empire-building businessman), Kentridge collapses the usual moral distinctions between irresponsible capitalist and socially-aware artist, between the perpetrator of injustice and the awakening social activist. As the distinction between the two characters blurs, we are made aware of the probability that impulses normally considered to be polar opposites coexist within an individual.

Created right before the first general elections in South Africa, Felix in Exile examines the nature of national memory when faced with the sacrifices made to reach that point in contemporary South Africa. In the film, Felix meets Nandi, an African woman surveying the death and destruction after a brutal massacre, against a landscape that threatens to absorb the bodies and erase all traces of their existence.

This film warns that people are covering up or choosing to forget the realities of the past as part of their creation of a new South African identity. Felix, the well meaning, if slightly ignorant artist, awakens from his naïve reverie to a fuller grasp of this harsh reality. Nandi serves here as a metaphor for the painful but necessary process of remembrance. Additionally, this work points out the similar properties of both landscapes and paintings, which both depict a certain reality while concealing the history of their development. (Ref)

Drawings from History of Main Complaint

History of the Main Complaint 1996

Kentridge created the sixth film History of the Main Complaint in 1996 during the initial hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, at which apartheid’s crimes were first publicly admitted while the perpetrators were granted indemnity in the hope of healing profound social and historical wounds in this post-apartheid society. In the film Soho lies comatose in a hospital ward, suffering from the weight of his past acts as well as those for which he is implicated due to his race and class. MRIs and CAT scans reveal his affliction, as memories of violence committed against black South Africans float across the screen. The relationship between individual and collective guilt is played out when Soho regains consciousness only through acknowledging his own responsibility. (Ref)

Kentridge began this film as a project to determine the feasibility of combining his unique style of charcoal animation with the music of Monteverdi, alongside an exploration of modern scientific methods of examining the body. What begins in the film as an examination of Soho’s comatose body evolves into a journey through his memory in which his persona seems to merge with Felix’s as he surveys scenes of death. In one scene, he relives an accident in which his car struck and killed a man. It is the realization of his responsibility for this death that finally brings him back to consciousness. When the hospital curtains are withdrawn, however, we find Soho back in his office, and it is unclear whether his journey has changed anything. This medical exam serves as an allegory for the reconciliation process, whose ultimate moral effectiveness is unclear. Of particular interest is the fact that his examiners are also in pinstriped suits (Soho’s industrialist uniform), perhaps suggesting their complicity and thus shared responsibility with their patient. (Ref)

Automatic Writing, 2003

By Isabel Baraona

 Automatic Writing was made 2003. Within Kentridge’s work, Automatic writing can be interpreted as an allegory of the intimate and fluid relation between story telling through image and/or words. According to Kentridge, the sequences with several successive transformations of words, numbers, isolated letters or sentences in other elements, work as a calligraphy associated with “automatic writing”. Automatic writing was a common method used by the Dadaists and Surrealists’ to write poetry or to draw images. In the XIX century it was used by mediums to get in contact with spirits of the diseased; and also, as an instrument of psychoanalysis  since it easily allows the “user” to get in touch with his or her subconscious.

The content of Automatic writing is unmistakably self-referent in many levels and it can also be seen as implying the importance of his wife’s Anne presence in the atelier. William Kentridge explains the role played by this female figure: “(…) she gets drawn into the words and disappears again and drawn in to words and disappears again and the third or the fourth time it grows into me next to her. (…) she disappears back in to words and a self-portrait kind of representation is left at the table.”

She plays a more indefinable role than the conventional “muse”; her presence in the studio also works as a metaphor for the emotional inner-life, a mediator between public and private space.

Analysis of Works

To analyse, or to read any of Kentridge’s works, you need to be familiar with his oeuvre, his metaphors and symbolism which serves like key to his personal alphabet. You will see the same metaphors and symbols repeated throughout his works, in different contexts, which are all placed in context of the South African History, within the framework of Johannesburg and his personal experiences of the events. Each mark is a trace and reference to things of the past – thus history. His individual artworks cannot be analysed in isolation, but must be seen in context of the rest of his works.  Kentridge’s prints are often starting points for further explorations in his other works.

The Conservationist Ball;

The Conservationist Ball; Culling, Gamewatching, Taming,1985

His interest in in the triptych format was inspired by the work of Max Beckmann and Francis Bacon. The triptych format was ideal for his interest in story telling, the progression of time and social commentary.

This large triptych displays many of the features that distinguish William Kentridge as an artist.  It is primarily in symbolic black and white. His use of primarily black and white not only focus his work on the narrative of the images, but it also reflects the divisions in a social political environment as well as personal internal divisions of his subjects.

It also is not strictly a painting, though subtle elements of gouache is incorporated, which provides a minimal touch of colour to the predominantly black and grey imagery. But neither is it decisively a drawing. The ambiguity of technical procedure is a distinctive feature of Kentridge’s artistic personality and a link between his cinematic and pictorial work. This triptych also contains many of the metaphors and symbols that appears in his later animations.

Characteristically, he establish an evocative setting, an emotionally charged ambiance in which the scenario unfolds. In Culling and Gamewatching, the atmospheric space is a deep, receding interior. In the third panel, Taming, the setting is a claustrophobic deep, alley with steep sides of barricaded city walls, filled with wrecks of cars, creating a feeling of a post apocalyptic scenario.

The pictorial elements of the three scenes include recurrent Kentridge motifs and metaphors: men in evening dress, symbolic beasts like the rhino, cheetah and the hyena. Included in panel I is a camera and in panel II, binoculars, metaphors for the act of looking, which is a crucial motif in Kentridge’s art. Typically also, is his partial self-image, which is reflected in the mirrors of Panel I and II and on the billboard in Panel III. To Kentridge the incorporation of his own figure, is never simple self-portraiture, but a means whereby he acknowledges personal and collective responsibility. It is also a declaration of a preoccupation with the human condition that makes his work both social and general.

The characters in the Conservationist Ball are preoccupied and self-contained, connected to the world outside through their private drama only by the mirrored presence of the artist, the unobserved eavesdropper. In contrast the hyena in Panel III stares out accusingly and meets the viewer’s gaze head on.

The satirical substance of the title and subtitles is communicated in various subtle details of the scenes enacted, in iconographical allusions and in visual puns:

Diego Velazquez, Las Meninas, 1656

Panel I, Culling, in which repeated echoes of Velazquez’s Las Meninas add overtones of secondary meaning is set in an artist’s studio. He uses a dramatic perspective, which adds to the feeling of intrigue and discomfort of the image. It depicts a moment in an enigmatic human drama, in which hypocrisy, infidelity and callousness each seems to play a role.

Panel II, Gamewatching, shows the careless pleasures of the Café Society, but puns on their diversions – the nature of the game, the trophies of the hunt.    The rhino is a symbol for Kentridge of an exploitative, colonialist view of Africa, a symbol for the subjugation of a continent stripped of its natural resources for European benefit.

Panel III, Taming, shows the outcome of panels I and II, and depicts a  commentary on the consequences of human folly. Its visual theme is a decaying city artery, clogged with the remnants of a reckless past. The only living creature of this unnatural habitat is a scavenging hyena – survivor and temporary monarch of the urban wilderness. The symbolism of hyenas in South Africa is associated with evil, dark spirits and mischief. It became a prominent symbol in Resistance art in South Africa, as symbols of repression and oppression, and often stand in for oppressive authorities.

Familiar with the social satire of William Hogarth (1697-1764), whose work he had emulated with his own parable of Industry and Idleness in 1986-7, Kentridge brought this treatment to the current South African situation,  exposing the effects of ‘superior’ colonial culture on the landscape of South Africa which it has exploited, referred to in the Tamming, where the environment has been ‘tamed’ to become a desolate wasteland.

The Boating Party, 1985

The Boating Party, 1985

In the charcoal and pastel triptych, “The Boating Party” (1985), Kentridge recalls the title of Pierre-Auguste Renoir‘s Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881) but the charm of the Impressionist Paris, has given way to Kentridge’s vision of a city in which the duality of man is exposed.

Auguste_Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1880-1881.

Auguste_Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1880-1881.

This triptych depicts a  Café situated in an outdoor pavilion and the scene suggests the ambience of upper class society. Details draws freely on impressionist art; well-dressed couples dance or are served by waiters, binoculars rest on tables, and numerous other details recall the  Café and theater scenes of Renoir and Dega. Just as Kentridge recently left Paris and returned to Johannesburg, when he created this work, the overlay of French Café  Society is swept aside in a flood of grotesque images, specific to South Africa.

The art historical implication of the title is immediately overridden by the rendering of the scenes. As opposed to the idyllic scene of Renoir, the scene has changed to one of horror. Amidst the revelry we see panting dogs and raw meat atop tables, and behind the back of the elegant woman a burning tyre falls, a clear reference to “necklacing” and the violent political situation in South Africa during that time.

The dinners still seem to be languid, at ease. In the first panel of the triptych, a woman with a particularly haughty expression clasps a warthog like a lapdog, but the waterhog which appears in the first panel is cut up and appears as a jelly in the third.

This contrast between the wealthy privileged lifestyle and the chaos and violence in the townships is further reflected in the use of charcoal and pastel and choice of colours. His use of soft pastels forms a stark contrast with the background violence and heightens the feeling of unease one feels when looking at the art work. His line drawing is also soft and flowing in the women but sharp and rough beyond the fences, in the dog and the burning tyre.

His use of charcoal as a medium with the minimal colour provided by pastels has a historical reference to the early 20th centuary where it was used as a medium of social comment by artists like, Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, Kathe Kollwitz and South African Artist Dumile Feni. He however not only uses it for social commentary but also for its softness and quickness on paper. The black and white and shadows itself serves as a metaphorical comment on the divisions in society and the Jungian psychological concept of the shadow of the divided self, which he would explore further in his animated movies.

The angular composition is emphasized by the turquoise railing which also serves a device of continuity in throughout the three panels.

By borrowing historical art themes, Kentridge not only translated modern art and culture to South Africa, but also encapsulated his feelings concerning his troubled homeland under Apartheid and his mixed feelings about political art, resulting in ambiguity and contradictions.

kentridge casspirs_full_of_love 2b

Casspirs full of Love, 1989

Casspirs Full of Love, appears deceptively simple compared to the complexity and baroque – like compositions of his earlier triptychs. Neither does it have the depth of perspective of his earlier works. At face value it appears to be a still life depicting a vertical structure resembling a shelved box containing seven severed heads, reminding one of a cabinet of curiosities, or a shelf of heads in a museum waiting to be catalogued. Yet, like his other works, it is far from static and has multiple layers of meaning referring to Kentridge’s rejection of all forms of tyranny. To use one of Kentridge’s expressions; ‘”A whole blackboard of equations reduced to a single line.”

The drypoint intaglio was based on a poster-sized drawing Kentridge made in 1989, on the occasion of his solo exhibition. The title appears in sloping, cursive handwriting on the right side of the image running vertically from top to bottom. ‘What comfort now?’ is written in dots on the left side. Above the first rung-like horizontal partition of the box the words ‘not a step’ is written. The head at the top bears the number 1. The two heads in the narrow, top partition appear to have more western features than those below, which look African.

On the surface, this print refers ironically to the state of emergency prevailing in South Africa during the turbulent political and social climate of the late 1980s , when the revolt against the the Apartheid system was in full swing and the government was under pressure both from external and internal sources. Despite the state of emergency which gave the security forces broad powers to arrest and detain suspects at will, leading to many state-sanctioned murders, as well as banning the media from documenting the racial unrest, there was large scale social unrest and mass demonstrations. The MK (Umkhonto we Sizwe –  Spear of the Nationmilitary wing of the ANC ) also carried out some bombings of civilian, industrial and infrastructural sites during this time.

The title of this work refers to a radio message on a popular radio program for South African troops, in which a mother wished her son in the army on the South African border ‘a good tour of duty’ and ‘a safe return’: “This message comes from your mother, with Casspirs full of love.” Kentridge plays on that irony by forging the association between the heartfelt wishes and the cabinet full of decapitated heads, which refers to the duality that existed within South Africa.

Casspirs are armoured military vehicles; their name is an anagram of the abbreviations CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research – the organization that developed them) and SAP (South African Police). The Casspirs were mainly used by the police force and were used first to protect its borders with Angola and Mozambique and later by the to quell riots and demonstrations in the black township communities in South Africa during states of emergency imposed by the apartheid government. The army used mainly Buffels.

The Casspir, became emblem of the violence, oppression and injustice of Apartheid, a way of repressing all hope and faith. In the left hand bottom corner is an outline of a hammer. The hammer symbolises destruction, and deconstruction; that which destroys certainty, embematic of the uncertainty and turbulence of the 80s in South Africa.

‘Casspirs’, were designed and built by the South African security forces. Police would fire shotgun rounds, rubber bullets, tear gas, or water cannon from them.

Kentridge captures the tension between the violence employed by the Casspirs and the message of love sent by friends and family to conscripts in the security forces; contradictions inherent in the apartheid state. This tension is echoed on an aesthetic level through the highly charged, textural surface of the print, contrasted with the soft cursive of the inscription.

Tension is also created through the compositional elements as the ladder like structure appears skew and off balance, so that the picture does not feel static, even though it depicts inanimate objects. This dynamic, rather than static feel of the etching is further emphasized by the scratchy aesthetic of his lines and the strong zig zag line to the left which echoes the diagonal slat in the center of the structure, where the severed heads seem to balance precariously causing  a feeling of discomfort with the viewer. The head in the center is surrounded by lines that gives the effect of of ripples in the water or a feeling of movement. The whole of the image has a feel of instability, reflecting the instability and turbulence of the times.

Through technique of drypoint that is based in drawing, and allows for revision, layering, looseness and speed of illustration, Kentridge  retains his characteristic scratchy, sketch aesthetic range of expressionistic mark making and the free, gestural effect of his smaller drawings and animations.

To Kentridge the technique itself alludes to the historical aspects associated with the medium. Intaglio has a history as a democratic, easily distributed medium.  Artists like Francisco Goya and Otto Dix used etching to satirize the powerful or to illustrate government related atrocities (Ref)

The obvious interpretation is that heads belongs to those killed in riots and demonstrations. The words ‘not a step’ both confirm and deny the ladder-reading of the image, urging us to look deeper. Kentridge’s metaphors are deliberately ambiguous and can be read on multiple levels and often refer not only to one event in time.  Heads in a shelf-like structure  in a desolate landscape, also appears in his movie “Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City after Paris,” 1989. Here again the heads refer to those slain in revolt.  But why the shelf-like structure?

kentridge jhb heads

William Kentridge, “Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City after Paris,” 1989. Production stills

Its meaning becomes clearer in Black Box / Chambre Noire which is Kentridge’s reflection on the history of  the 1904 German massacre of the Hereros in Southwest Africa (now Namibia). The heads of some of those killed were sent back to the Berlin Institute of Physical Anatomy, to be measured, catalogued for scientific research. An estimated 3,000 skulls were sent to Germany for experimentation. These heads were only recently returned, like Saartjie Baarman’s remains.

images from Black Box/Chambre Noire, 2005

 In the 1991 film Mine, there is also a scene where the miners sleeping on concrete  bunks are depicted to look like heads on a shelf, which in turn visually links to the well known diagram of slave ships.  It is also linked to the title sequence of Mine where a head ambiguously appears to look either like a miner’s head wearing a lamp, or a crowned antique Ife head from Nigeria . The head as icon therefore not only alludes to the victims of revolts against Colonist and Apartheid rule but also alludes to an exotic tourist or colonial view of Africa’s otherness. The structure in this context can then also allude to a cabinet of curiosities or a museum shelf.

Sequence from Mine 1991

Sequence from Mine 1991

http://africa.si.edu/exhibits/evidence/kentridge1.html

Mine Shaft and Slave Ship, 1991

Opening frame from Mine – a miner’s head wearing a lamp or a crowned antique Ife head from Nigeria?

kentridge mine

See the Mine on Vimeo

The Structure can also be linked to the slave ship diagram, illustrating the most economical way of transporting slaves, and the ladder like descend of the mine shaft, as a metaphor for the social-economical structure and conditions in South African and the colonial rule since 1900 and thereafter. It therefore not only refers to a specific incident or example but also the general principle on which a whole capitalist system was abused and maintained, with little or no concern for the social issues involved. (Ref)

Unlike Kentridge’s other animation films, Mine differs in that it presents a vertical cross-section of a mine. A lift carries the workers up the mining shift, out onto the land, which is metamorphosed into Soho’s bed. The film constantly shifts from below to above and vice versa to portray the contrasting surroundings and situations.

This vertical compositional element is also found in the composition of Casspirs full of love, where the ladder-like structure is both the center of the composition and focus, reminiscent of the vertical ascent or descent of Mine. The title is also written vertically, bringing more emphasises to the vertical structure. The structure further divides the composition between right and left side, reflecting the equivalent of the political separation in South Africa .

The vertical structure also suggests key themes of Kentridge’s work – that of memory and the irony of the Western World’s impulse to bring knowledge and light to the dark continent and its tragic consequences in the exploitation of Africa’s resources and its emphasis on the ‘otherness’ of Africans.

In much of the early literature on Africa the nature of the Europeans’ mission was described as the bearing of gifts of civilization, Christianity, peace, justice and good government to the natives. The four C’s – Commerce, Christianity, Civilization, Colonization – were deemed by many liberal-minded Europeans to provide the most effective recipe for the transformation and regeneration of Africa. (Ref)

The structure’s likeness to a cabinet of curiosity brings to mind the historical association of cabinets of curiosities as a microcosm or theater of the world, and a memory theater. The Kunstkammer, or cabinet of curiosity, predecessors of modern museums, conveyed symbolically the patron’s control of the world through its indoor, microscopic reproduction. (Ref) This connection further strengthens Kentridge’s focus on the underlining causes of the situation in South Africa.

In Mine (also a play on mine as personal possession) when Soho depresses the coffeemaker’s plunger, he initiates a journey to the center of the earth: the plunger drills a deep shaft into the mine of the title, into the shadowed realm that underlies our doing, our thinking, our aspiring. Each stratum passed by the plunger is crowded with artifacts natural and unnatural, bodies and things once covered. (Ref) History has to be excavated to reveal the truth. We have to work at uncovering what we felt when we were first exposed to violence, because we become de-sensitised and memory fades with time.

For Kentridge ambiguity and irony is where reality, history,  memory and wishful thinking meets in a single point. What is on the surface is like a monument to a historical event of massacre – This event in the memory of – it does the remembering for us. 

Although Kentridge draws on his perceptions of the South African experience, his expression of his themes is humanist and reflects issues beyond South Africa’s contemporary history. He communicates by means of metaphors. Casspirs full of Love illustrates Kentridge’s multiple layering of meaning especially well. On one hand it can be seen to depict those slain during the turbulent years of the 1980s but on the other hand it can be seen as a visual monument to all the deaths and suffering in the wake of Colonization and Apartheid. Unlike most Protest or Resistant Art of South Africa from the 80s, Kentridge draws his visual vocabulary not only from that period, but his work can be seen as a protest against all forms of oppression.

Footnote

Drypoint is a printmaking technique of the intaglio family, in which an image is incised into a plate (or “matrix”) with a hard-pointed “needle” of sharp metal or diamond point. Traditionally the plate was copper, but now acetate,zinc, or plexiglas are also commonly used. Like etching, drypoint is easier for an artist trained in drawing to master than engraving, as the technique of using the needle is closer to using a pencil than the engraver’s burin.

http://www.coolhunting.com/culture/william-kentridge.php

References

American Society of Cinematographers
http://www.theasc.com/blog/2010/05/24/william-kentridge%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%9Cnose%E2%80%9D/

Art 21
http://www.art21.org/artists/william-kentridge?expand=1
http://www.art21.org/artists/william-kentridge/images

Artthrob
http://www.artthrob.co.za/99may/artbio.htm
http://www.artthrob.co.za/03mar/reviews/goodman.html

Art in the Studio @ Pitt
http://pitt.libguides.com/content.php?pid=109198&sid=2319538

Artwriter.com.au
http://www.artwriter.com.au/news/william-kentridge-talks-to-artwriter-about-his-latest-sydney-exhibition/

Daniel Bosch, Dispatches from William Kentridge’s Norton Lectures
http://artsfuse.org/53944/fuse-dispatches-lessons-drawn-william-kentridges-six-drawing-lessons/

Dan Cameron, William Kentridge
http://books.google.co.za/books/about/William_Kentridge.html?id=FuDVQgAACAAJ&redir_esc=y

David Krut Projects
http://davidkrutprojects.com/7777/william-kentridge-at-edinburgh-printmakers

Marianne Eliott
http://www.westerncape.gov.za/text/2010/3/18_arts_january_february_50-53.pdf

Guggenheim
http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/collections/collection-online/artwork/9423

Marian Goodman Gallery
http://www.mariangoodman.com/exhibitions/2004-10-23_william-kentridge/

Kate McCrickard – Magic Flute, 2007
http://www.davidkrutpublishing.com/4609/i-am-the-bird-catcher-by-kate-mccrickard

Metropolitan Museum of Art
http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/kuns/hd_kuns.htm

MoMA – William Kentridge
http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2010/williamkentridge/
http://artinprint.org/index.php/exhibitions/article/the_politics_of_geography_and_process

Museum of Contemporary Art
http://12artspace.wikispaces.com/file/view/William_Kentridge_Education_Kit.pdf

Michael Rothberg, Progress, Progression, Procession: William Kentridge and the Narratology of Transitional Justice
http://michaelrothberg.weebly.com/uploads/5/4/6/8/5468139/rothberg_kentridge_naratology_transitional_justice_.pdf

Norton Lectures
http://mahindrahumanities.fas.harvard.edu/content/norton-lectures

Johann Oppermann, Contrasting Time and Space in William Kentridge’s Film: Johannesburg 2nd greatest city after PARIS
http://repository.up.ac.za/bitstream/handle/2263/15043/Oppermann_Contrasting(2003).pdf?sequence=1

Johann Oppermann, The Mine metaphor in the work of William Kentridge
http://repository.up.ac.za/bitstream/handle/2263/15351/Opperman_Mine%282001%29.pdf?sequence=1

Franklin Sirmans, William Kentridge
http://www.flashartonline.com/interno.php?pagina=articolo_det&id_art=814&det=ok&title=WILLIAM-KENTRIDGE

South African History Online
http://www.sahistory.org.za/people/william-kentridge

Michael Stern, Africa and Otherness
http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~gerscan/ger_posters/hum_300_s_11.pdf

Susan Steward, A Messenger
http://www.parkettart.com/downloadable/download/sample/sample_id/184

Lucy Bena Stuart-Clark, Fragments of Modernity, Shadows of the Gothic: questions of representation and perception in William Kentridge’s I am not me, the horse is not mine (2008).

Tate
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/kentridge-casspirs-full-of-love-p11838/text-summary
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/kentridge-cambio-p78560/text-summary

Lilian Tone, Interview with William Kentridge
http://artarchives.net/artarchives/liliantone/tonekentridge.html

The Legacy Project
http://www.legacy-project.org/index.php?page=art_detail&artID=456
http://www.legacy-project.org/index.php?page=art_detail_large&artID=453&num=1

Karen Verschooren, William Kentridge: Complexity and intimacy – Redefining political art in the South African late- and post-apartheid context
http://www.core.org.cn/NR/rdonlyres/Comparative-Media-Studies/CMS-796Fall-2006/EDF7F3AF-E526-42A0-82C8-1F25AF7DEB0A/0/verschooren1.pdf

Viera Pawlikova-Vilhanova, The African Personality or the Dilemma of the Other and the Self in the Philosophy of Edward W. Blyden,1832-–1912
http://www.aepress.sk/aas/full/aas298d.pdf

Wen-Shu Lai, Aesthetics in William Kentridge’s “ Drawings for Projection ”
http://ed.arte.gov.tw/uploadfile/periodical/2172_AE0602_00240043.pdf

Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Kentridge
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cabinet_of_curiosities

Portrait of Willie Bester by Enzo Dal Verme

Biography

Willie Bester was born in the town of Montagu near Cape Town in 1956 to a Xhosa father who was a migrant labourer and a mother classified coloured. Under the Apartheid laws,Bester was classified ‘other coloured’ because his parents were defined as a mixed race couple. His siblings, were classified as black and registered in the name of their father, Vakele. Under apartheid law, mixed race families were not allowed a home in the “Coloured” areas of Montague. The only lodgings available to migrant workers, in Montague as elsewhere, were single-sex hostels in large compounds behind high fences. Therefore, the only circumstances in which the family could be together during Bester’s childhood was to live in informal accommodation in other people’s back yards.

 Bester displayed his talents early in life when as a young boy, he began making toy cars out of recycled wire, which was common enough among children at the time. However, Bester’s wire cars were covered in metal and expressively decorated. He began experimenting with painting by the time he was seven.

http://www.mennonitemission.net/STORIES/BEYONDOURSELVES/PROPHETICPURSUIT/Pages/Racingtocommonground.aspx

The draadkar, a well-known toy on the African continent, is a wire car crafted from found items rejected as scraps.

Although a promising student, Bester dropped out of school after the ninth grade to help the family economically by making and selling shoes and crafts. However in his late teens, Bester, like many other unemployed youth from the townships and rural areas at the time, were “drafted” to the Eersterivier Cadet Rehabilitation Center for a year, where they were forced to do army-type of training . There however, he was introduced to painting as someone gave him art materials. (Ref)

(untitled) Truck

The racism he experienced in the apartheid army and the real consequences of the war he witnessed, influenced him deeply and was to have a decisive impact on his life. He was forced to confront the racial self-hatred that was engendered by being part of the apartheid army, fighting his own people. (Ref)

Social Engineering 2

After working as a dental technician’s assistant for 15 years in Cape Town, at the age of 30, Bester was drawn to his childhood love for art. In 1982, he held his first solo exhibition. His early work were street scenes and landscapes.

South African street scene, 1995

He began to attend part-time classes at the seminal Community Arts Project (CAP) in District Six in 1986. In the context of the heightened political resistance of the mid-1980s, Bester found an intellectual home with the community of socially committed artists he began to associate with. He began to express his developing political conscience through his art. As part of this collective of artists, Bester played an active role in the anti-apartheid movement.

http://www.brundyngonsalves.com/exhibitions/2011/implemented-environments/

Zwelethu Mthethwa and Willie Bester, Experiment 5 … Wat ga’ aan

At CAP, Bester honed his technique and developed his characteristic use of mixed media to express his political views by using a combination of photographs, paint and found materials in layered symbolism  By the late 1980s, Bester began to achieve a measure of success as an artist and he turned professional in 1991. Bester emerged as one of South Africa’s most important resistance artists. He is recognised internationally for his ground-breaking anti-apartheid work.  (Ref)

Influences

Since its invention by Picasso and Braque in the period of Synthetic Cubism,the rubbish collages of the Dadaist Kurt Schwitters and the early Pop assemblages of Robert Rauschenberg, representation of the real world through the combination of found objects, is a theme that has been explored many times. However, opposite to what used to occur at the time of historical avant-garde, his use of waste material do not belong to the anti-art dimension but it is actually a structural part of the themes that he explores. He uses found objects to form an integral part of the social statements he makes through his art and so forms a personal iconography. 

His art works are a combinations of found objects which he gathers from the very townships he depicts. Willie sees rubbish dumps as symbols of the community in which he lives. (Ref) Just as people often regard those living in the townships as rejects of society, his works in themselves symbolises the falseness of that perception. To show people that something unexpected, something valued can come from what is regarded as rubbish, he assembles his art works from it. His works  also comment on everyday life in the township of people in the Western Cape.

Township Scene, 1994

Before he joined the  Community Arts Project in Cape Town, in 1988, he was painting and creating artworks  in the Western art styles. He believed that art meant depicting the natural surroundings. He was unaware at that stage that a message could be created through a work, especially a political one. He wanted to further his art studies, since he knew from a young age that he wanted to create art, but he found that most art institutions were reserved for white people only.

At CAP, his fellow students were expressing themselves and their feelings about Apartheid. Like many South African Artists of the time, they were actively involved in the political struggle against Apartheid, creating posters and having discussions on issues beyond the borders, such as the cross border massacres of the SADF. It was within the that environment that Bester realized  how he could contribute to anti=apartheid movement through his art. His special focus was on the townships and the lives of the people in it.

Characteristics and Themes

He became known for his signature mixed media creations, using scrap materials – acquired from local dumps – combined with the use of oil paints and photographs, often taken by himself. Over the years, Bester enlarged the scale of his compositions and started using a greater range and variety of discarded material to build up surfaces and increase the sense of spatial extension. These technical developments were accompanied by a growing concern to record the complex experience of township life and his own history within it.  His works are all linked, because their subjects, if they are not themselves set in the environment of the Western Cape townships, are invariably represented in that context.

Bester’s conscious use of these materials is a homage to his past, and the many compatriots who find creative ways to house themselves and to survive. With these, he expresses the textured themes of his work, which include forced removals, township life, gender oppression and the brutalisation of South African society. (Ref)

He uses the leftovers of the society he depicts in order to retrace the political history of South Africa. Like an archaeologist, Bester reconstructs the fabric of this history to reveal the hidden faces of the South African township. His works are vivid collages, juxtapositions of odds and ends, of rubbish found in the townships: shoes, bones, tin cans, newspaper clippings, pages of books, scrap metal. (Ref)

“People have built up a resistance to anything that addresses the psyche of mankind or people or themselves. I believe that we must protest against that which is wrong. There is no form of escape; remaining apolitical is a luxury that South Africans simply cannot afford.”(Ref)

In more recent years, Bester has explored contemporary themes arising from the challenges of post-apartheid South Africa such as crime, greed, poverty and corruption. For him, resistance to apartheid was fundamentally about humanity and human rights, which he continues to be vigilant about.

“What I try to get behind is why it is so difficult for people to change from their old ways. It hasn’t worked out the way I imagined. People who thought they were superior before haven’t really changed. I try to find out through studying history what gives people the right to think that way. I try to find a solution, not to be disappointed, to reach an understanding. The Truth Commission seemed to be one of the answers, but now I find that even the Truth Commission is a trap. It has done more damage than good, because the ANC was favoured over the Afrikaners. I want to do a series about it.”

Over the last decade Bester’s focus has shifted to combine fresh conceptual directions with familiar themes and materials. His latest works consists mainly of waste metal and other debris of industrial, agricultural and domestic activity. His art fuses new ideas into works that comment powerfully, occasionally humourously, on diverse socio-political issues, some global, some uniquely South African.

Bly Uit Oortreders Sal Geskiet Word, 2004

Bester for example uses a technique of creating see-through constructions in order to magnify inner worlds which is exemplified by Bly uit Oortreders sal geskiet word. A galvanized petrol can is flayed open like an anatomical model. An intricately wired interior world suggestive of an electrical station, a computer or a petrol pump is contained and exposed by a glass barrier. This inner world is guarded by a doll dressed as a watchman, obviously Caucasian, probably made in China for consumption by children in the so-called West. It stares at the viewer through an ominous threat in Afrikaans, as a comment on the global oil-based technology and its social impact. Through this work and other works in his ‘Metalized’ (2005)  exhibition, Bester examines some of the power dynamics that are currently at play in the new South Africa. He questions the state’s concern with maintaining a balance between freedom and security in works that are conceptually dense, while presenting us with intimate depictions of people struggling to be free. (Ref)

Willie Bester SECURITY GUARD

Small metal tiles and objects are fused into a remodelled and reshaped “skin .” Utilitarian objects are re-contextualised into relief works or monumental freestanding figures with forceful messages, for example, the  Security Guard so familiar to anyone accustomed to the South African urban life. While the figure’s uneasy stance, sideways glance and partially exposed skeletal frame of cogs and bolts convey an underlying tension, indicative of profound and complex paradoxes in capitalist society.

Bester is a strongly intuitive colourist whose painting remains as clear and incisive as ever. He still works in a grass roots environment where, in many ways, little has changed. This is why his comments on society’s ongoing injustices, like abuse of women and children, continue unabated. Metal is a powerful medium conveying a powerful message. His painted panels, contrasting so strikingly with the galvanized metalwork, combine almost seamlessly in the constructions, adding a world of socio-political inquiry. His unique way of combining painting with sculpture acts as a silent metaphor for the unique ways in which Willie Bester straddles the worlds of high art and every day life, never losing sight of socially sensitive concerns.

Materials

 A major part of all Bester’s works to date are the found objects he gathers from townships near his house and includes in his collages. The discarded materials are rich in symbolic meaning, and Bester creates an original iconography from the most varied and unlikely sources. He uses a motley array of objects such as machine parts, old sacking, sticks, various tin cans, sheep bones and wire netting. These objects are chosen not only for the way they convey the texture of the townships, but also for their symbolic significance which he discovers within them

Kakebeen (1993), Wood, bone, metal, lether, oil paint and newspaper on board

The materials themselves are very significant. Bester often includes newspaper photographs and text to illustrate a work. However, because the photographs and text are from a newspaper, they also illustrate that what is depicted is a newsworthy event. Bester also often includes photographs that he has taken himself. The meaning of these pictures is more representational, but they show that the artist was present in the environment, and shows his personal identification with the events photographed.

Domestic Worker

http://williebester.net/portfolio/domestic-worker

Domestic Worker 2

Technique

http://www.vgallery.co.za/2002article10/vzine.htm

Bester pays minute attention in equal measure to conceptual visualization, selection of parts, physical construction and final finishing of his works. Current political or social incidents provide the impetus for him to visit his “art shop “, a local scrap yard, where he spends days selecting every detail for the “anatomy ” of his planned subject. Back in his studio in Kuilsrivier the pieces are carefully laid out on the floor before building begins, usually from the feet up, ensuring a strong substructure. As the work proceeds, balancing metal forces, dictated by the laws of gravity, unite into form and idea. (Ref)

Current political or social incidents provide the impetus for him to visit his “art shop “, a local scrap yard, where he spends days selecting every detail for the

When a sculpture is complete, it is transported to an industrial galvanizing plant where it is galvanized to prevent future deterioration. Having worked in the international art world and dealt with major museums and collectors around the world, Willie is aware of conservation concerns for artworks in collections and therefore expends much time and care on the final finishing of his works.

http://www.vgallery.co.za/34long/metalized.htm

Willie Bester Security Guard (detail) 2005, recycled metal

Analysis of His Works

Forced Removals, 1988

As a part-time student at the Community Arts Project in Cape Town in 1988, the blatant attacks on the Apartheid system in the work of his fellow students, was an eye opener to him. The critical environment of the art school inspired him to produce two works, Forced Removals and Don’t Vote, that protested the  injustices of the Group Areas Act and the racial composition of the apartheid voters’ roll. The medium that Bester chose to express these themes of protest was a collage of waste material and conventional artistic forms that has since become his hallmark. The success of these first explorations with “mixed-media collage” and in the physical and symbolic use of township waste, encouraged Bester to pursue his career as an artist.

In Forced Removals, Bester depicts a scene common to many township and squatter camp residents during the Apartheid era: the forced removal of people from their makeshift or permanent homes at the hands of the government. The removals were usually sudden and violent, with police and soldiers entering the townships. This was often a very painful and emotional time for those families forced to leave their homes with only the possessions they could carry. Townships such as Sophiatown in Johannesburg and District Six in Cape Town are two examples of flourishing communities that were completely destroyed by the Apartheid government. (Ref)

Destruction of houses during forced removals in District Six Destruction of houses during forced removals in District Six Cape Town, South Africa, 1974

Sophiatown residents waiting for the trucks after the force removals in 1956. Photography Jurgen Schadeberg.

The focus of the composition is the bright yellow bulldozer in the process of destroying District Six, with callous disregard to the inhabitants feelings. The bulldozer in itself becomes a symbol of the brutality involved in the destruction of a once thriving community. Bester uses photographic cut-outs for the two people standing behind the bulldozer, which brings the reality of the situation home to the viewer. They appear to be in a state of shocked numbness. By using photographs of actual people Bester effectively brings home the message that forced removals wasn’t just some distant event in history that affected  anonymous people, and personalize the suffering the inhabitants experienced. To the left, a man appears to attempting to salvage some possessions, and one gets the feeling that that the bulldozers did not even wait for the the people to remove their possessions.

Bester treated the rest of the painting as a realistic painting of township life and in doing so, the viewer feels even more poignantly that soon the bulldozer will destroy the colourful scene forever. The bulldozer becomes not just the focal point of the painting, but also a disturbing element in what would otherwise just be a depiction of a street scene.

willie bester forced removals detail

At the bottom right hand corner Bester enigmatically stenciled the words “Made in England,” giving a visual impression that it could be part of an old packing crate found on a rubbish dump. This use of stenciling is both reflective of the reality that the scene will soon just be rubble, a rubbish dump and perhaps also a comment on the economic system itself.  Like Bester’s other works, Forced Removals may be read both across and below the surface, and he successfully combines the subject matter with a richly textured whole within the resonance of its symbolic content.

Family Unit, 1993

Family Unit, 1993 (For full analyses click on images)

Four of Bester’s works from 1993 are dedicated to victims: two record the sufferings and privations of ordinary South Africans, and two commemorate assassinated political leaders. Bester wants all of these subjects to be understood as casualties of a morally bankrupt system. Institutionalized poverty and systematic  degradation created an entire population of oppressed people.

These paintings, and the series of which they are part, reflect a change in the direction of Willie Bester’s art, from his early work, and may be said to represent scenes of life in the townships as illustrations of the effect of a generation of apartheid laws.  While these works appear to draw on this experience in order to celebrate the indomitable spirit of the oppressed people of South Africa, his early paintings consist of individual scenes of township life represented realistically with the several techniques at his disposal, these are symbolic in content and in pictorial structure.

This series from 1993 are composed through the combination of many different scenes and events which may or may not be realistic representations  in themselves, but focus around the principal theme. This pictorial language allows Bester a  more direct voice in the work, through which he express fragments of his own biography and his strong feelings about the issues he is addressing.

Beyond thematic coherence, surface unity is assured by the use of distinct color combinations and the related techniques of scattering anonymous stencil marks and dribbling pure colors throughout the length and breadth of the painting. An exploration of the depth of Willie Bester’s works involves the literal re-creation of perspective distances through the media of photography and illusionist painting, and the forward extension of these fictive spaces through the incorporation of three-dimensional objects on the surface.

Another strategy that Bester employs is to translate imagery from photographic sources – his own or newspaper reproductions – into the medium of paint. The people he represents in this manner, who are usually the principal forms of the painting, appear to gain significance in the process: shifting from an anecdotal reality that is defined in terms of time and space, they acquire a kind of symbolic status.

 These paintings celebrate the lives and achievements of their principal subjects. But the artist makes clear that these lives have been led under the most dehumanizing circumstances: apartheid South Africa systematically degraded its oppressed people and eliminated their leaders. Bester makes these points not simply by illustrating in his unique way the appalling conditions in which huge sections of the population are obliged to live, but also through the use of symbols.

The system of racial classification is referred to by images of both Pass books and, metaphorically, machine parts that spew out the rigid identities into which South Africa divided its population. The scattering of stencil numbers and lettering throughout the works suggests the arbitrary methods of classification and the reduction of human individuality to ciphers. Similarly, the tin cups that form such a consistent feature of Willie Bester’s iconography relate through their numbering to this sense of reduced humanity, but they extend this idea by evoking the Cup of Gethsemane. The necessary acceptance of suffering that is suggested by this reference is communicated in a slightly different way by the many musical instruments that Bester uses in his work. Beyond their several suggestions of social harmony and vitality, the guitars and other instruments are intended to illustrate the Afrikaans expression “Jy sal moet dans soos die musiek speel,” which translates roughly as “You have to dance as the music dictates.

Semekazi by Willie Bester

Migrant Worker, 1993

In Migrant Worker, Bester shows his concern for the conditions in which migrant labourers were forced to live in Apartheid South Africa, and that after years of work for a company, they received no pension and no prospects for a secure retirement, reflective of his personal experiences in a family whose father was a migrant labourer.

Analysis by Michael Godby and Sandra Klopper

Semekazi, the subject of Migrant Labourer, had retired from construction work but continued to live in the township of Crossroads in order to support his wife and four children in the Transkei. He had no house or even room of his own in Crossroads but simply rented a bed in a hostel for R6 a month. When he applied for a pension from the construction firm for which he had worked for many years, he was told that he was listed as dead and therefore was not eligible. To supplement his monthly state pension of R60.74 for himself and his family, Semekazi collected and sold scrap materials in the township. He was murdered by gangsters six months after Bester completed this commemoration of his life.

Migrant Labourer is primarily about the life of Semekazi, but it also records the life experiences of all migrant laborers. The central motif of the painting is Semekazi’s bed, which doubles as a prison for the man looking out from behind it. A lock and chain connect the bed to a Bible at the bottom right, a reference both to Semekazi’s religious convictions – he used to give R5 to his church every month – and to the fact that South Africa claimed to be run on Christian principles. The irony in this reference is underlined by the Bible’s proximity to a second book seen to the right of the bed: a replica of Semekazi’s Pass book. Fearing prosecution and police harassment, Semekazi continued to carry his Pass book even after the Pass laws were repealed in the late 1980s.

Semekazi by Willie Bester

To the left of the bed and above the Pass book are two panels representing Semekazi’s wife and four children, whom Semekazi would dearly have loved to have with him in Crossroads. The indications of rural life at the top of the composition are separated from these portrait figures by an undulating row of numbered cups. These cups refer both to the Agony in the Garden and to the fact that people are rendered anonymous through the systems of discrimination and abuse entrenched in apartheid. The roller and ink pad for fingerprinting serve to reinforce this idea.

Semekazi by Willie Bester

Throughout the composition, Bester makes reference to the two worlds that Semekazi used to inhabit: the rural and the urban. The rural world from which he came is symbolized through the inclusion of buck horns and sheep bones, among other things. The urban world in which he lived at the end of his life is represented in crowd scenes, the industrial landscape of chimneys and guns, and mechanical clamps. The clamps double as handcuffs. In motifs like these, Bester conflates images of industry with the idea of imprisonment. In his view, Semekazi was a captive of the industrial landscape because he never had the prospect of a secure retirement with his family in the Transkei.

Footnote: migrant labourer: a migrant labourer is a term given to people who live in another nearby country to the one they are employed in. They receive no financial benefits and have to live in hostels (usually single-sex) while they work. This prevents them from seeing their families for long periods of time. When the government created the homelands within South Africa, such as Swaziland and Bophuthatswana, they were legally living in another country. These homelands generally had no resources of their own, so the black men would have to cross the borders of the homelands and work in South Africa to earn money, as migrant labourers. Their benefits by law were thus reduced to a minimum.

Bester-Willie-BIKO

Tribute to Steve Biko, 1993

The focus of this work is anti-apartheid activist and hero Steve Biko, who since his death in police custody (12 September 1977), has been a martyr of the anti-apartheid movement. His death shortly after the Soweto uprisings served as a rallying point both internationally and locally for the anti-apartheid movement.  Throughout the Tribute to Steve Biko Bester placed images relating to his death.

On 18 August 1977, Biko was arrested at a police roadblock ( featured to the left of Biko) under the Terrorism Act No 83 of 1967 .

Bester-Willie-BIKO roadblockHe was interrogated by officers of the Port Elizabeth security police including Harold Snyman and Gideon Nieuwoudt. This interrogation took place in the Police Room 619 The interrogation lasted twenty-two hours and included torture and beatings resulting in a coma. He suffered a major head injury while in police custody, and was chained to a window grille for a day.

Bester-Willie-BIKO chained

Bester-Willie-BIKO landrover

On 11 September 1977, police loaded him in the back of a Land Rover, naked and restrained in manacles, and began the 1100 km drive to Pretoria to take him to a prison with hospital facilities.

Bester-Willie-BIKO 1100

He was nearly dead owing to the previous injuries. He died shortly after arrival at the Pretoria prison, on 12 September.

Bester-Willie-BIKO autopsy

The police claimed his death was the result of an extended hunger strike, but an autopsy revealed multiple bruises and abrasions and that he ultimately succumbed to a brain hemorrhage from the massive injuries to the head, which many saw as strong evidence that he had been brutally clubbed by his captors.

Bester-Willie-BIKO woods

Then Donald Woods, a journalist, editor and close friend of Biko’s, along with Helen Zille, later leader of the Democratic Alliance political party, exposed the truth behind Biko’s death

Bester-Willie-BIKO target

The target with scattered numbers found in both Tribute to Steve Biko and Tribute to Chris Hani represents the Apartheid system’s propaganda that portrayed  the people’s leaders as villains; individual human beings, with all their complex experience and history, reduced to statistics for exploitation and disposal.

Bester-Willie-HANI

Tribute to Chris Hani, 1993

Tribute to Chris Hani (1993)

The central image in this work is an animated portrait of Chris Hani, the Secretary-General of the South African Communist Party, who was assassinated on Easter Saturday, 1993. Bester used photographs from newspapers to depict the circumstances of his death – on the left his murderer is shown, the Polish immigrant Janus Walusz, and on the right comrades grieving over his stricken body. Other media images in the top right hand corner show the six day mourning period that was declared in Hani’s honour, and the outbreak of violence and anger that Hani’s death unleashed. Bester has included his own feelings regarding Hani’s death by the burnt state of the wood of the central panel. However, the focus of the work is on commemorating Hani’s achievements in the battle for peace in South Africa.

The bicycle tire around the portrait of Hani represents a laurel wreath. Bester has successfully managed to bring the original meaning of the tire that has become debased through political abuse. By using the tire, Bester knew the form might very well evoke images of the fearful “necklacing” practice (see “necklacing”). However, he was determined to restore it to its original connotations of transport, labour, progress and union activity. The tire is inscribed with the valediction “Hamba Kahle” (Go Gently), and the fateful words that Hani uttered in a television broadcast a few days before he was killed: “I’ve lived with death for most of my life. Nobody wants to die. I want to live in a free South Africa and I’m prepared to lay down my life for it.” Because the wheel can have industrial connotations, it could also suggest Hani’s socialist beliefs, which are further indicated by the red colour of the sky behind his portrait and in the hammer-and-sickle emblems.

Hani’s desire to abandon the armed struggle and to fight the system through the organisation of labour is shown by the AK-47 overlaid by the dove, and by the industrial forms among military apparatus on the right side of the painting. In the bottom right-hand corner there is a figure of a miner, who symbolises this struggle. His torchlight in his helmet illuminates a bank note that represents gains in wage negotiations. The crosses in his goggles refer to the appalling accident record of South African mines. The guitar in the bottom centre of the work stands for a number of things: it shows social harmony and the regimentation of life under Apartheid. The yoke symbolises the continued state of subjugation experienced by the majority of South Africans.

In this work Bester is both celebrating Hani’s achievements and criticising the violence in South African society. The target on the left of the central image shows how this leader was created into an enemy of the state by government propaganda. The balaclava-clad killer and the “Top Secret Hit List” on the right represent the culmination of the campaign of vilification. The numbers scattered across the target indicates the process of dehumanising a person in this way. Individual human beings, with all their complex experience and history, are reduced by the system to statistics for exploitation and disposal. The central image of Chris Hani shows that he resisted this process through the powers of conviction and courage. This portrait shows Hani at the head of a march – one that was actually protesting his death – and appearing to represent the demands of the people to the viewer.

http://library.thinkquest.org/18799/wbes3.html

Cradock 4 (1993) (Click on image for full analysis)

For Those Left Behind, 2003

 

Trojan Horse II

Trojan Horse 3

The event that occurred on October 15th 1985, which came to be known as the “Trojan Horse” incident, took place in the coloured residential suburb of Athlone near Cape Town. Police forays into black areas were being met with strong resistance such as barricades of burning tires, stone-throwing and ‘traps’ dug into the road. The people simultaneously demanded “Troops out of the townships.” In an effort to punish stone-throwers, police hid in crates on a truck and had the truck driven up and down a busy thoroughfare in Athlone. Eventually people began throwing stones, and immediately the police burst out of their crates and opened fire. Moments later three boys lay dead by the side of the road. The youngest was Michael Miranda who was 11 years old, on his way to the shop when it happened. Bester also had a strong response to the “Trojan Horse” incident. He felt that the situation was “as low as you could get” since the tactics the police were using were ancient (as is the Trojan Horse story) and showed desperation on their part to convict the stone-throwers involved.

Bester created a series of three sculptures about the Trojan Horse Massacre with Trojan Horse III being the last in the series. Unlike Trojan Horse 1 and 2, which evoke the feel of African scrap metal toys as a reminder of the child victims, Trojan Horse III is made from parts of cars and motorcycles that Bester has transformed from scrap metal into a naturalistic animal. Characteristic of Bester’s works, the materials he uses are significant in themselves. The parts used to create the horses are in itself symbolic of the symbolism of the Theme. His particular visual vocabulary of forms, focus the attention on the transformation of flesh and blood into dehumanised cogs.

The ‘Trojan Horse 3’ is made of ‘violent’ material, including bombshells and machine guns, all related to the ‘Trojan Horse Incident’. The use of metal gives this sculpture an aggressive, industrial look.  The choice of material emphasizes the horrible rationality in which those policemen, in cold blood, performed this crime. First danger hides, but then it appears surprisingly and causes an explosion of loss. (Ref)

 Bester originally asked permission from the South African police to use decommissioned Kalashnikov rifles; to signify the smuggling of arms on the African Continent, but he was politely and firmly told that they were all to be melted down.

The life-size horse consists of a motorbike motor for its belly, to give it its general structure. There is a machine gun protruding from the top of the back, symbolising the guns that came out of the truck containing the police.

The drips refer to the people who were injured by this exercise. They also represent the dying mentality of Apartheid, with many of the white Afrikaners at the top of the country trying desperately to keep the system alive, as if they were drips to a dying person. A Bible is chained to the horse, and the tail is made of strips of rubber, which police used to whip people.

The horse appears aggressive and naked, revealing all its bones and raw muscle, as the Apartheid system is now being exposed for what it was.

Bester’s work charts the dramatic social and political developments in South Africa over the past 25 years. His account of social change is not idealistic. Instead, he continues to address issues of corruption and Government accountability in the new South Africa.

References

Art.anazana.com
http://art.anazana.com/en/arhiivs-13508/page-31055:12/page-42386:7/open-news:4766

Arttrob
http://www.artthrob.co.za/99aug/artbio.html
http://www.artthrob.co.za/05nov/reviews/34long.html
http://www.artthrob.co.za/01nov/reviews/goodman.html

Banard Gallery
http://www.barnardgallery.com/?m=4&s=2

Bowmann Sculpture
http://www.robertbowman.com/modern/artist/willie_bester

Contemporary Art Collection , Jean Pigozzi
http://www.caacart.com/pigozzi-artist.php?i=Bester-Willie&bio=en&m=37

Donvé Lee, Willie Bester: Art as a Weapon

Michael Godby and Sandra Klopper, Art of  Willie Bester, African Arts, Vol. 29, No. 1 (Winter, 1996), pp. 42-49+104

South African History Online
http://www.sahistory.org.za/people/willie-bester

South African Resistance Art
http://library.thinkquest.org/18799/time30.html

The South African Cape Corps in Defence of – DISA
http://www.disa.ukzn.ac.za/webpages/DC/Dav8n684.1681.5785.008.006.1984.9/Dav8n684.1681.5785.008.006.1984.9.pdf

The Presidency
http://www.thepresidency.gov.za/pebble.asp?relid=7833

VGallery
http://www.vgallery.co.za/34long/metalized.htm
http://www.vgallery.co.za/99article23/vzine.htm
http://www.vgallery.co.za/2005article6/vzine.htm

Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willie_Bester

Willie Bester
http://williebester.net/

Willie Bester in die Eikestad
http://storiesbyadel.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/issue-7-dn.pdf

Short Biography

Jacobus Hendrik (Henk) Pierneef was born in Pretoria. His father, Gerrit was an immigrant Hollander, who was a master-builder, carpenter and building contractor. (In the period before the first World War the concepts architect, masterbuilder and building contracter were not clearly defined as separate as it is today.). His father was also a close friend of of president Paul Kruger. Henk went to the Staats Model School in Pretoria where he took his first art classes,. He was very good in drawing and one of his teachers inspired his love for nature and his interest in rock formations.

During the Anglo-Boer War they left for the Netherlands or face imprisonment. In Holland both Pierneef and his sister could also get the medical care they needed. They stayed at first in Hilversum where Pierneef worked in a paint factory after school and learnt techniques of mixing paints and also went to night-classes in Architectural drawing. Later they went to Rotterdam, there he studied for a year at the Rotterdam Art Academy. This experience brought Pierneef into contact with the works of the old Dutch masters.

They returned to South Africa when Pierneef was 18 and both him and his sister had no longer needed the medical care for their respective conditions.  Pierneef wanted to study architecture, but his father experienced financial difficulties and young Henk Pierneef was sent to work. He continued to study artistic techniques, encouraged by his godfather, Anton van Wouw. The Irish artist George Smithard encouraged him to develop his own South African style of painting and taught him the graphic mediums like etching and linocuts.

In the aftermath of the Boer War there was a lot of bitterness among Afrikaners towards the British. As Milner also wanted to Anglicize Afrikaners on top of the suffering endured during the Anglo Boer War a strong sense of nationalism was born among the Afrikaners. Within this atmosphere Pierneef took up the cause of Afrikaner art and culture and illustrated many books of Afrikaans Authors as part of the second language movement to get Afrikaans excepted as an official language. He also lectured on developing a South African identity in arts and crafts. He painted and made linoprints in his spare time while earning his living at other occupations, and it was only 1924 that he became a professional artist.

Pierneef’s art can be divided into two periods; work done before his second visit to Europe and the work done after 1926 when he returned to South Africa. The first phase shows a search for an individual style and the second phase, the period between 1925-1935, was the time in which he attained full maturity and when all the influences flowed together to the full synthesis of his personal impression of the South African landscape and his unique style and vision.

The Dutch artist van Konijnenburg’s philosophy had a particular influence on him. He met with the artist during his second visit to the Netherlands and corresponded with him for many years.

Pierneef’s second visit to the Netherlands also made him aware of mass-produced consumer goods which were also available in South Africa and how it was affecting the the taste of Afrikaners. He launched a campaign against it in articles and speeches and encouraged traditional Afrikaner arts and crafts.

In 1928 Pierneef shocked the traditionalists by including some stylized modern art in the Cubist style and which some called it ” Futuristic ” works in an exhibition. These were not accepted as well as his traditional works that he became known for, and after bad reviews, and a turning of art trends against Abstract art in Europe after the War, he reverted back to his old style.

Pierneef accepted a commission in 1929 to paint 32 panels for the interior of the then-new Johannesburg Railway Station, considered to be some of his best work. In 1933, he was commissioned to do seven murals for South Africa House, the South African embassy on Trafalgar Square, London. Pierneef completed this work in 1934. He died in 1957, Pretoria.

Influences

In the his earlier years Pierneef was influenced by the Impressionist style and Post-Impressionists’ colour palette and treatment of light . Through this influence he observed the light effects found only in Africa, which is very different to the European light. Also influenced by the European interest in primitive art, he was the first South African artist to study Bushmen rock art and the traditional tribal art of South Africa in his search to find a uniquely South African style. The rock paintings of the Bushmen are a stylized art form in which the colours are adjacent to one another, on one plane, and there is no shading or modulation of colour. In certain types of light, the South African landscape takes on a flat, 2 dimensional quality. In the bright  midday sun objects lose their volume and the strong light reduce them to two dimensions, making them into flat planes and texture seems to disappear. This suited his geometric style of painting.

He believed that the triangle was the basis of African art and often used the triangle both in his compositions and for decorative borders in his graphic art works.In is graphic work he developed his own geometrical Art Nouveau Style.

Returning to Europe in 1925, he was exposed to many stimuli but it was Dutch artist and theorist, Willem van Konijnenburg’s (1868-1943) ideas who had the most influence on Pierneef’s art. It was the integration of Van Konijnenburg’ philosophy regarding the spiritual effects of mathematical proportion, linear rhythm and simplified form and the symbolic use of the the horizontal and vertical line in painting, that became the foundation for Pierneef’s mature style.

According to the particular philosophy of van Konijnenburg, the principles of geometry was used to emphasise the linear elements in painting to achieve harmony, balance and unity. For both van Konijnenburg and Pierneef rhythm of colour, of line, and of tone created harmony and a feeling of tranquility. Both shared a love of Architecture.

Konijnenburg was also regarded to be a Symbolist. In reaction to the Impressionists the Symbolists sought internal light.instead of the natural light of the Impressionists, The Symbolists wanted to create a landscape of the soul rather than the natural landscape of the Impressionists. The symbolist movement did not see nature as appealing decor, but as a reflection of the emotional life.Trees were for example personified and perceived as possessing souls.These elements can also be found in Pierneef’s mature work.

In 1928 he did a range of paintings that showed the influence of the abstracted geometric shapes and planes of the Cubists. He used it to develop a unique South African Cubistic landscape style with the Symbolist philosophy as basis.

Aim and Characteristics of Art

“Jy moet saamry op die wa met jou volk,” (You must ride the wagon with your people.) Pierneef.

Pierneef’s philosophy of life was formed by his desire to promote everything that was truly South African; art, architecture, music, together with his quest for harmony and order. He was a great painter of landscapes, trees, and flowers, but rarely did still life paintings or human figures. Most of his landscapes were of the South African Highveld, uninhabited and with dramatic light and colour.

For Pierneef art and architecture were inseparable because for him both depended on the structuring of space and proportion. One can say that he interpreted the landscape through with a structural bias. He often treated mountains and rock formations as structures and even his trees were sometimes used like collonades through which the landscape in the background is seen in perspective. The Architectural structural elements in his paintings are emphasised by his simplification of subjects that reveal their basic structure.

 An Extensive View of Farmlands, 1926

An Extensive View of Farmlands, 1926

His reduced and simplified the landscapes consisted of geometric structures, with flat planes, lines and colour that represent the harmony and order in nature.His particular style was also called monumental-decorative style as the decorative elements were dominant and presented in broad, clear and simplified lines and planes, with the strong linearity depicted in a subdued palette of pale colours, usually tone values of the same colour.

Clouds and trees were especially of interest to him and reflected the theme and the underlying symbolism of the painting. Not only did the specific trees have specific symbolic meanings to Pierneef but as they were also characteristic of particular geographic areas, he used them to describe the character and atmosphere of the particular area. He also used the trees as elements to structure the composition.

Pierneef developed this visual language based on the character of the land and the quality of light to be found in Africa. The most characteristic elements of his work was the light and colour, and the geometric structuring of his compositions. He achieves unity of composition in his work by using Although he stylized the the elements in his paintings towards abstraction his work never became non-representational as it did with Mondrian.

Examples of His Work

Johannesburg Station Panels 1929 – 1932

Johannesburg Station Panels 1929 – 1932

Background to the Panels:

Both Stellenbosch and Rustenburg Kloof  were part of the Johannesburg Station’s 32 panels. They were placed in the old Johannesburg Station as adverts to travel the country. As is characteristic of monumental art the paintings had to form a synthesis with the architecture of the building and give expression to the idea contained in a building which in this case was a railway station from where people departed to the different landscapes of South Africa depicted in paintings. The Station Panels were executed in the formal, ordered style for which Pierneef has become best known. The technique that Pierneef used on the panels was to make numerous field sketches that were blocked off and enlarged onto the canvas. Dark outlines of forms were then drawn in, followed by flat areas of colour. A cartoonist would use exactly the same method and it is this technique that gives the paintings such a graphic feel and suited the requirements for the murals in his monumental-decorative style.

Old Johannesburg Station

As monumental mural paintings, the paintings had to flow together with the architecture and at the same time emphasise it. The panels had to be placed in arch-shaped niches and Pierneef echoed the arches of the building in the panels. The arch is reflected in the composition of the paintings; even in the lower part of the panels the arch is reflected in the light and shade effects in the foreground – symbolically drawing heaven and earth together in a cosmic circle, reflecting Pierneef’s personal philosophy.


The size of the panels was a problem to Pierneef as they had to be slightly higher than they were wide and this resulted in a vertical quality that dominated the whole. The verticality meant that Pierneef could not give full expression to the “ver verlate vlaktes” (distant desolate plains), the wavy fields and endless horizons which are so typical of South Africa, however, he was, however, still able to capture atmosphere so unique to the varied parts of the country.

He was also limited in what colours he could use in the paintings, as the colours had to be “wall colours.” The colours in his paintings match the soft tints of the marble columns in the hall. To emphasise the unity he used only a limited number of colours and repeated them in different panels. Blue, green, red and purple were used for the landscape and a mixture of whitish grey, silver and gold for the clouds. The same colours were subtly combined to create a warm or cold atmosphere or to suggest certain morning or evening moods, desert-scapes, or mistiness. In this way he mixed reddish purple with grey and blue, cold colours in themselves, into sunset moods and created warmth.

These pictures shows some of the station panel paintings with real photographs of the scene it represented.

Stellenbosch (1932)

Careful, mathematical composition is a hallmark of the panels.
His fine sense of proportion can clearly be seen in these paintings. An analysis of Stellenbosch shows that he constructed his work along square and diagonal lines. It is based on the proportions contained in the golden section,used since the Renaissance times, by many artists and architects, who have proportioned their works to approximate the golden ratio, especially in the form of the golden rectangle, in which the ratio of the longer side to the shorter is the golden ratio, believing this proportion to be aesthetically pleasing. Basically breaking down the composition down into thirds.

A Fibonacci spiral which approximates the golden spiral, created by drawing circular arcs connecting the opposite corners of squares in the Fibonacci tiling and a tiling with squares whose sides are successive Fibonacci numbers in length.

Rustenburg Kloof (1925 – 32)

This is the actual Rustenburg Kloof – you can clearly see how Pierneef Stylized the scene to make it more dramatic.

The mathematical composition of the panels is also clearly visible in this painting, as well as their circular structure. The arch of the clouds is echoed in the ochre earth forming a circle . The circle is reinforced by the use of tone, so that the eye is drawn to the centre by the pale yellow of the cliffs behind the Camel thorn tree. The darker shapes of the trees in the foreground help to form a frame for the light mountains in the background. The cliff seems immense behind the contours of the central wooded dark areas as there’s no middle ground to give a sense of its scale. Looking at the photograph it seems as if Pierneef made the cliffs proportionally much higher and more dramatic than they really are.

As is true of Pierneef’s characteristic landscapes, he also reduces his subjects to their essence (stylize), leaving out unimportant details and emphasising only the main features in this painting. The broken linear vertical and horizontal treatment of the rock face is reminiscent of Mondrian’s non-representative style of white ground, upon which was painted a grid of vertical and horizontal black lines and the three primary colours. Some writers do say that Pierneef was familiarized with Mondrian’s work during his second visit to Europe and that he was intrigued by it. In some of his preparatory for Rustenburg Kloof drawings this aspect is especially clear.

Mondrian (1913) Tableau No. 2/Composition No. VII, 1913.

The trees and the landscape are rhythmic and balanced. The long horizontal skyline, the strong vertical element and the arch of the open sky form the basic pattern of the composition, which can also be interpreted symbolically.

The composition is well balanced in both colour and line. The colours emphasise the geometrical outline and separate the different levels and planes from one another. The light purple shadows of the cliff in the background is echoed by the mountain in shadow at the right of the painting. The vertical lines of the trees and the rock formation is rhythmically repeated to gently lead the eye through the painting. The vertical and horizontal lines in the painting emphasize the geometric structure underlying the composition, as well as the geometric structure of the rock formation that forms the basis of the mountains.

His intellectual approach and structure strengthens the mood of African scenery. Pierneef often within a single image, combined different perspectives and different times of day of the same scene. For example the light in this painting is based on an early morning light, and in reality you wouldn’t see those clouds early in the day at Rustenburg Kloof. The foreground area also is depicted at the angle which will give the overall composition the most drama rather than how it actually is. This aspect is both an element of the multiple perspectives/the multiple view-point of the Cubists and Romantic landscape artists but it is synthesized into a uniquely South African style.

We take it for granted that the camera shows us what is “real”, but it only captures a moment. Pierneef gives us a highly stylised version of the world, that conveys a reality far truer to our memory and our emotional recall of the South African landscape. What he shows in a landscape is how a particular moment impresses upon our senses and emotions when we first encounter an awe inspiring scene in nature. Often when we take a picture of what we see we are disappointed because it lacks the drama we remember.

Composition in Blue (circa 1928)

Composition in Blue is one of Pierneef’s more abstracted and heavily stylized works that was rejected by the public and after which he reverted back to a more representational style. In this painting has taken his favourite Highveld landscape, trees and clouds and fragmented it into geometric forms using a limited palette of colour, reminiscent of the Cubist style, but he used the Cubist style to describe the illusion of reality and used it for a different aim.

The eye is drawn to the central source of light in the clouds and then back to the tree in the center of the composition from where your eye is guided by the other trees deeper into the background and back up the the mountains into the sky. The dark vertical shapes of the trees diminishing in size almost forms a path that rhythmically leads the eye into the painting.

It is composed according to strict mathematical principles and philosophy where the cosmos is seen as a geometrically ordered whole and the artist is seen as striving to make the rules of this higher reality visible through mathematics.
The composition is divided into the golden thirds both by the vertical and horizontal lines as well as by his use of colour. In the foreground the warm colour of the earth is divided into thirds horizontally by bands of purple-brown and ochre. The background and the middle ground forms a harmonious whole in graded blues divided into thirds by the horizontal lines of the trees emphasized by the tonal values of the blues. The strongly emphasized  horizontal lines in this painting can be seen as a visual expression of the national anthem’s Die Stem words
Uit die blou van onse hemel, (From the blue of our heaven)
Uit die diepte van ons see, (From the depths of our sea)
Oor ons ewige gebergtes, (Over our eternal mountains)
Waar die kranse antwoord gee, (Where the cliffs echoes answers)

If you took away the strong contrasting vertical lines of the trees, especially the one in the foreground, however, the painting would have lacked the drama.

To Pierneef the clouds symbolically represented “clouds of our Dear Lord,” an omnipresent creative force. In the centre of the composition is the umbrella shaped Camel thorn tree. To Pierneef the tree is not simply a natural object, it was a means of expression, thought, and a feeling.To Pierneef the tree was both a psychological projection of man and a symbol of life, forming a link between heaven and earth. In this painting the dominating tree is both a symbolic link between heaven and earth and a stylistic device that links the sky of the background to the earth in the foreground. The leadwood tree in particular was a symbol of eternity to him.and the Camelthorn symbolized the Bushveld. The Camelthorn in this painting is stylized through omission of detail and simplification of its large shape to its basic shape to fit in with the shapes in the sky.

The clear association which Pierneef creates between heaven and earth in this painting gives shape to Van Konijnenburg’s philosophy that the task of art creation as the bearer of of the idea was to realise this harmony and that geometry was the vehicle whereby it could be done – art begins where nature ends.The forms of reality had to be stylised to give expression to an idea. This can also be called Realistic symbolism or an art in which symbols are expressed realistically. Pierneef however, took the philosophy and visually synthesised it into his own, reflecting his vision of the spirit of Africa.

Key Words or Pierneef: Architecture, African Light, Structure, Stylization, Geometric structure, flat planes, Cubism, balance, clouds, trees, Symbolism, Romantic landscapes, Afrikaner Nationalism, Highveldt landscape

Pierneef, 1928

Pierneef, 1928


Bibliography:

P.G. Nel, J.H. Pierneef, 1990, Cape Town
Absolut Art Gallery
http://www.absolutart.co.za/masters/jh-pierneef
Smart Art
http://www.arcyart.com/sah-pierneef.htm
Straus Art
http://www.straussart.co.za/news/cutting/2010-09-01-pierneef-panele-by-die-rupert-museum-stellenbosch
http://www.straussart.co.za/ajax/highlight/12/162
Stephan Welz & Co
http://www.swelco.co.za/Index.cfm?fuseaction=news.start&ID=5651583
Travels with Pierneef
http://carlbecker.wordpress.com/about/
Wikipedia
http://af.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%C3%AAer:Pierneef_1925-32_Rustenburgkloof.jpg
The years up to 1925 and Pierneef’s long awaited visit to Europe
http://upetd.up.ac.za/thesis/available/etd-08252009-101616/unrestricted/02chapters4-5.pdf     

SWOT Analysis

Posted: January 11, 2013 in Design Theory
Tags: , ,

In your Design Theory exam paper you will get a question where you have to make a SWOT analysis of a product. This infographic is a perfectly illustrates Swot analysis.

(ROI is an acronym for Return on Investment – the amount of profit or cost savings realized by implementing a practice or strategy)

http://visualoop.tumblr.com/post/35473933069/swot-analysis-for-mobile-roi

SWOT analysis

For everything you need to know about SWOT Analysis click on the image below