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Archive: Issue No. 41, January 2001

Go to the current edition for SA art News, Reviews & Listings.


23.01.01 'Too close for comfort' - Doreen Southwood
16.01.01 Hoerikwaggo - Images of Table Mountain
09.01.01 Travel diaries: HSAL at the Cape Town Castle
09.01.01 Cross Pollination - Günther Obojkovits and Karin Dando at the Hänel
19.12.00 'Cast' at the Bronze Age Foundry
Kwazulu Natal
23.01.01 'Jabulisa 2000' at the Tatham

Doreen Southwood

Doreen Southwood
A Drop in the Ocean
Mirrors and painted wood
Installation detail

Doreen Southwood

Doreen Southwood
A Friend
Magazines and found wooden cabinet
Installation detail

Doreen Southwood

Doreen Southwood
Foam, rubber, velvet


'Too close for comfort' - Doreen Southwood
by Sue Williamson

A soft shower of upside down pale blue hand mirrors slide down a wall - a perfect image of inverted narcissism, out of control. Nearby, in a, green-glassed display cabinet, an echo of the ball and claw footed cabinets found in the suburban homes of the seventies, rows of brittle, elongated glass vases are displayed. A silver engraved plaque at the bottom labels the collection: Anorexia nervosa.

Rows of small silver trophy cups on a wall have also been engraved: Doreen Southwood Panic Attacks, 1997-1999. Or Spastic Colon, 1998-2000. Or Headaches, 1996-2000. Each documents a complaint connected with stress. The piece is called Floating Trophies. Shield fronted medicine cabinets are jammed with pills. Two large and handsome red teardrop shapes in hand-blown glass are named simply, Drop. Make your own association - tears; medicine drops; beautiful, fragile objects that will shatter if you let them fall.

The theme of the maladjusted childhood of South African whites (caused by the fallout within family walls of the underlying stresses of living under apartheid) is a vein that has been mined before - most notably by Brett Murray with his parade of family photographs in Guilt and Innocence: the Rivonia Years, and Bridget Baker, with her inflatable swimming aids embroidered with the achievement certificates of her childhood, floating around on a Portapool. Even some of the techniques used - the silver plaques engraved with copperplate script, the use of embroidery, hark back to these two artists. Fortunately, Southwood's work overall is more than strong enough for us to be untroubled by these echoes. The use of artistic metaphors, the combination of a number of very different pieces and the way that they have been installed at the Bell-Roberts Contemporary is little short of brilliant.

The curved wall at the back of the gallery serves as a background for Southwood's show, 'Too Close for Comfort' and appears to have been tastefully wallpapered in a pale blue design. On closer inspection, the wallpaper turns out to be a blow up of the surface of a blue quilted mattress. Taste, how this manifests itself in homes aspiring to respectability and 'family values', and sleep, often chemically induced when the effort of trying to achieve those aspirations becomes too much, are the two axes around which this show turns. Below the blue wall, a parade of spotlit red velvety bedroom slippers, the ultimate symbol of the comforts of home, lead around a corner. There are 26 pairs, one for each year of Southwood's life, in ascending sizes.

Follow them, and one is led to one of Southwood's strongest conceptual pieces, entitled A Friend. The glass fronts of a tall white medicine chest show the spines of dozens of stacked copies of Sarie, an Afrikaans language women's magazine for homemakers. MY INSPIRASIE (my inspiration) is the byline of the magazine, printed on every spine. Issue themes include 'n Viering van Vrouwees' (a celebration of being a woman) 'Gesond en Mooi' (Healthy and beautiful) and 'Word jou eie baas' (Be your own boss) and '107 idees vir kombuise' (107 ideas for the kitchen). The type is black, the spines are white, but near the bottom of the cupboard, some of the black type on the centre of the stacked copies is superseded by red. It's almost as if blood has been squeezed out of the unceasing efforts to block out the outside world and keep up a good home, and is trickling down.

Red, the colour of blood, white, the colour of the hospital, and pale green and blue, the colour of small town bedroom walls are the carefully coordinated 'fashion colours' of this show. Extending the conventions Sarie seeks to teach its readers in subversive parody, Southwood has made sure every piece is in its place, neat, ordered, immaculately finished. Forefronting the whole, greeting the viewer who enters the gallery, Southwood has placed a small painted bronze sculpture: a finely realised self-portrait. A young girl, her spine prematurely curved from carrying a weight too heavy for her years, disconsolately holds a large swaddled object, her pet dog, the current object of her neurotic affection.

This is Southwood's first solo show, and the work was prepared for her Master's degree at the University of Stellenbosch. It is an exciting and impressive debut.

Opening: Wednesday January 17
Closing: Saturday February 10

Bell-Roberts Contemporary, 199 Loop Street, Cape Town
Tel: (021) 422-1100
Fax: (021) 423-3135
Email: or
Gallery hours: Mon - Fri 8.30am - 5pm, Saturday 10am - 1pm

Katherine Bull

Katherine Bull
Positioning the Cape: a spatial engraving of a shifting frontier, 1999
Installation detail

Thomas Bowler

Thomas Bowler
Table Mountain, from Kloof Nek Road above Cape Town, 1837

Hoerikwaggo - Images of Table Mountain
by Paul Edmunds

Table Mountain, or Hoerikwaggo as it has also been called, looms large in the consciousness of Capetonians. It loomed big in my own consciousness when I first relocated to Cape Town. Always in the periphery of my vision, I had not climbed it, was not familiar with its slopes and as such it stood to constantly remind me that I was not quite a 'local'. This exhibition reveals how the mountain has always featured in the mythology and history of South Africa and, in particular, the Cape of Good Hope. 'Hoerikwaggo' is an old Khoi word meaning 'Mountain of the Sea' and is regarded as the first name ever given to Table Mountain. This exhibition is a landmark in itself in that it draws on the collections of various Cape Town museums that together comprise Iziko Museums of Cape Town. Artifacts and objects from each of these formerly separate collections have been used to show that "Table Mountain is� a multi-layered, polyvocal symbol that speaks 'through' various people� with astonishing clarity, variety and diversity", in the words of curator Nicolaas Vergunst.

Vergunst has structured the exhibition in a way which is easy and satisfying to follow. Developing broad themes such as Table Mountain as a Name, Table Mountain and the New Dawn and Table Mountain and the Picturesque Vergunst demonstrates how these principles operate similarly in both the earliest and most recent depictions of and projections onto Table Mountain. Each theme is introduced by an explanatory paragraph and quotes from a variety of sources and widely differing times in large letters on the wall. Under the first-mentioned theme, Vergunst traces the earliest descriptions in map and record of the mountain and places these alongside Marc Cianfanelli's Atlantis, shown in Cape Town in 1998. This broader overview produces interesting juxtapositions which illuminate all of the works and artifacts presented.

Dominating the centre of the Liebermann room is Katherine Bull's Positioning the Cape: a spatial engraving of a shifting frontier. This work, aesthetically seductive as it is, is even more compelling when seen in the midst of a variety of sources on which Bull has drawn. Interestingly it serves to illuminate many of these sources which are to be found nearby. It goes some way, in fact, to suggest that Bull's work encompasses even more than the artist could ever have intended.

Interplay between the themes Vergunst has chosen often happens, but making these links is left largely up to the viewer (the exhibition is large and absorbing and this does require some diligence). A collection of 19th Century paintings of Table Mountain by Thomas Bowler, Heinrich Hermann and others is used to explore the notion of Table Mountain and the Picturesque. Text thoroughly discusses this theme and I found myself glancing back to an earlier part of the exhibition where enlarged postcard photographs by Gerald Hoberman are displayed and noticing how both depictions employed similar distortions and emphasis to similar ends. There is much discussion, in various parts of the exhibition, of physical distortions used in depiction of Table Mountain. Often these are purely formal devices, on other occasions they subtly reveal political motives; sometimes they were merely informed by ignorance.

Vergunst does a good job of exploring the image of Table Mountain in recent artmaking, much from the struggle years, demonstrating how this symbol, often used in a very personal way, is often the background to strong political feeling. Views which are depicted are very revealing in the directions from which they are taken. Before 1996, one doesn't see photographs which include or are taken from Robben Island, because this was illegal. When such views do become commonplace, we learn how, for political prisoners, their view of the mountain and bay represented freedom. Vergunst goes so far as to suggest that the popular view from Bloubergstrand "signifies colonial occupation, the island-view democratic freedom".

In its depth and size I found the exhibition quite challenging and always very thorough. Perhaps more space could have been given to the mythology and beliefs of the original habitants of this area, but perhaps this ventures a little too close to Anthropolgy. For myself, and given the broad fields which the Iziko collections encompass, I would have liked to see more geological and geographical depictions and facts. As objective as the sciences purport to be, we know that they are always the product of the society which produces them. Again though, perhaps this is a little too far out of the ballpark. It is interesting to look at historical depictions of Table Mountain and see how they so obviously reveal their worldviews and political intentions. More recent images, one would like to think, include a greater self-awareness and consciousness of their social and political constructs. Perhaps in the future sometime, we will look back on these supposedly balanced and informed views which we hold and see that they are no less revealing of time and place than maps, images and ideas held by people in the early years of the colonialised Cape of Good Hope.

Opening: November 25
Closing: April 01

South African National Gallery, Government Avenue, Company Gardens, Cape Town
Tel: (021) 465-1628
Fax: (021) 461-0045

Bridget Baker

Bridget Baker
The Still Life
Mixed media
Installation detail

Stephen Magashela

Stephen Magashela
Mixed media
Installation detail

Femke van Heerhuizen

Femke van Heerhuizen Untitled (detail)
Ink and watercolour on paper.

Paul Bogaers

Paul Bogaers
Found object and photograph

Nadja Kim Daehnke

Nadja Kim Daehnke
Globalisation (financial year 1999-2000)

Travel diaries: HSAL at the Cape Town Castle
by Sue Williamson

Ploughing up and down the coastline of Africa, in the mid twentieth century the Holland South Africa Line ships carried passengers and goods between the two countries. Time, cheap air travel and an apartheid economy brought an end to the service. In taking the name of the old line as a title for this extended project involving 14 Dutch and South African artists in 1999, the organizers, the AKKA Foundation of Amsterdam, sought to forge new cultural and artistic links between the two countries.

The idea was that the entire group of artists would spend several months first in Holland, culminating in an exhibition in Amsterdam, then in South Africa, with the second exhibition in the Cape Town Castle. In their guest countries, the artists would open themselves to the experience of living in the other society, and make work that responded to that experience. In a sense, it was a brief that favoured the oblique glance, a contemporary expansion of the notebook and watercolours of travellers of an earlier age, and precluded work that made a grand gesture. In an echo of those notebooks, half a dozen large blue books with blank pages were circulated amongst the artists before and during the working periods, and each introduced themselves through these books by writing, drawing, and pasting in photographs of work or anything else they wished. Time spent browsing through these engaging documents gives a background to the show, and an insight into how artists process raw material and experience for their work.

In one case at least, an artist has not strayed far from the sketchbook approach. Femke van Heerhuizen presents witty visual diaries of her experiences, documenting, for instance, a painful trip to a local hairstylist to have an African style plaited hairdo. Tilting the map of South Africa on its side, Paul Bogaers shows us it reads as a breast, the Drakensberg Mountain range providing the necessary modelling for the curve. Positioning the map next to a photograph of a real breast to form a torso, Bogaers presents a new image for Mother Africa.

Jurgen Meekel filmed the shadow of a car, racing along a dirt road near to sunset, when the shadows are long. Thus it is the shadow of the vehicle we see, never the actual car, and the shadow of a hand of a waving person in the back seat, and through this shadow the texture of grass and stones can be read, and the soundtrack is a simply sung African chorus. Pretoria artist Abrie Fourie introduced his Dutch counterpart Tiong Ang to Pretoria living. In a cheerful video entitled Suit, the two visit an old Chinese shop, buy a suit each, one blue, one yellow, and looking somewhat like small town mafia-type politicians surveying their fiefdom,travel around Pretoria on the back of bakkie, and visit amongst other spots, the Vootrekker Monument, acting out slapstick rituals in front of the Monument at sunset.

With her piece Globalisation (financial year 1999-2000), Nadja Kim Daehnke seems to be saying that the true owners of both Holland and South Africa are the multinationals. Daehnke presents a series of picture postcards from both countries, suspending them from rods from opposite sides of one room, and cutting away all the detail of buildings and landscapes from each card. Only the sky at the top of each card is left, demarcated by the missing outlines of windmill sails, or trees, or Table Mountain. On each, printed over the remaining blue sky are company logos and yearly financial details.

Sandra de Wolf provides a listening experience. Visitors are invited to sit on a beanbag, and listen to one of a number of extremely high quality tracks which record the daily sounds of living encountered by y De Wolf in this country. Clea Daiber's Tabula Africa fills a room with old newspapers, a brick turret, and a small scale model of tourists in trucks making videos of a curio elephant. Stephen Maqashela, who provided one of the knockout pieces at the Amsterdam show, and whose work is the first to greet the viewer who enters block B of the Castle, has pinched clay into an expressive mass of small figures who, face down and crawling, struggle through a bed of ashes towards the rolled up end of a grey felt carpet which they must presumably scramble over to proceed along the carpet and eventually reach a backlit Bill of Rights. It reads as an expression of the difficulties of transformation for the ordinary man.

In Amsterdam, in the Baggage Hall where part one of the exhibition was held, Bridget Baker presented a piece which was a large potted plant on a mechanised base, which moved and twirled itself through the exhibition viewers, every now and then emitting a little female voice, saying, "Take good care of yourself"'. Baker has a lateral approach, a sureness and a lightness of touch which is quite unique, and her presence on the South African art scene, where so much work exhibits an alarming sameness of thought process, is of enormous value. For the Castle show, Baker followed up the Amsterdam piece by preparing a square arena on the floor of one room. Here, vases of flowers, roughly arranged, careen around on wheeled bases, colliding and getting stuck like driverless dodgem cars. The piece is absurd, charming, and can be read in many ways, but mainly, it is a comment on the unpredictability of life, particularly in South Africa, where one does what one can to present a good face and do the necessary to survive, but chaos may be, and probably is, waiting round the corner. This unpredictability is not necessarily bad, it can be wonderful, and joyous, and gives life an edge that makes it difficult for South African artists to settle down in the blander atmosphere of northern societies.

Baker's piece was perhaps at its best on opening night, when all the flowers were fresh and all the bases were working, but it was the artist's intention that the flowers would take the course of nature and die, and that should mechanical failure occur and the vases come to a standstill, well, that would just be part of the inevitable process of the piece.

Kevin Brand spent his time in Holland producing sculptures of wire and paper and blue paint which look like weird outsize fragments of Dutch china, and hark back to his broken jug piece which floated in the Castle moat as part of 'Faultlines' in 1996. Judith Krebbekx's Dreamland is a series of paintings of sleeping faces, in softly dissonant colours, and other exhibitors were and Dorcas Mamabolo ceramics showed influences of both countries. The concept of 'Holland South Africa Line' was that of Andrea Rolfes and Aren-Jan Weijsters in co-operation with Mirjam Asmal-Dik, Jedithja de Groot and Leonard Shapiro. Website:

Opening: December 20
Closing: January 31

William Fehr Collection, Castle of Good Hope, Darling Street, Cape Town
Tel: (021) 469-1160 or 462-3751
Email: project co-ordinator Jedithja de Groot, or Mrs. Mirjam Asmal

Gunter Obojkovits

Günther Obojkovits
Mixed media

Karin Dando

Karin Dando
Black and white photo


General installation view of show

Cross Pollination - Günther Obojkovits and Karin Dando at the Hänel
by Paul Edmunds

A well produced and professionally presented show can stand alone. It doesn't need the support of a press release or essay, and is, in fact, done a disservice by such a document when a comparison between the two reveals disparity. Karin Dando and Günther Obojkovits have produced an exhibition which is pleasing to the eye, beautifully realised and conceptually sound. What they haven't done is "contest conventions" as their press release suggests. There is nothing too surprising about a series of black-and-white photographs imbuing a marginalised group with their deserved dignity and nor is there anything too daring about appropriating found objects and materials for the purpose of sculpture.

Dando and Obojkovits are husband and wife, resident on a farm near Tzaneen in the Northern Province, and the work they have produced here is firmly rooted in that experience. Dando has photographed, in black-and-white, labourers from the farm, and Obojkovits has found much of his material in the by-products of agriculture there.

Dando's large portraits of farm workers are shot against a white background and printed on a matte surface. The rich, glistening surfaces of the men, some shirtless, set this surface alight and their poses are engaging. Often caught somewhere between assertiveness and awkwardness, the men exude a quiet sexuality and confidence. They are beautifully lit, composed and printed; the deep tones of the figures generate enormous weight and strength. Whether this flouts conventions I am not sure, and, in fact, Dando's project ventures almost as close to the romanticised and objectified as it does to the dignified and restored (more Noble Savage than social justice served). Edward leans back from the camera, his bare torso clearly shaped by physical labour and his contraposto evidences a potential strength and energy.

Obojkovits has created a series of unusual constructions from 20 litre plastic chemical bottles, syringes and bones from domestic animals he has found on their farm. Syringes are filled with coloured liquid and each construction is lit from below by a light of the same colour integrated into the sculpture's pedestal. A spine, in Spine, is suspended inside one of these bottles, visible through a side which has been removed. Syringes filled with orange liquid are inserted symmetrically into the vertebrae. The broad themes of contamination, immunisation and manipulation are broached. The clinical presentation and neat order of the whole lend a rather sinister air to these constructions. In Gabriel, a work which reminds one of the early 20th Century fascination with the exotic, Obojkovits has appropriated a fire-blackened figurative wooden sculpture from a local sculptor. With his feet set in a crude resin cylinder, the figure is penetrated by a series of blue liquid-filled syringes. Reminding one of a fetish (or indeed, Brett Murray's Africa sculpture just down the road), the work seems to further explore themes of contamination or perhaps fusion. The charred surfaces of the sculpture are almost hermetically sealed, but I can't help but feel that a chalky decaying surface would have worked better in contrast to the coolness of the medical objects. But then, perhaps the work would have lent itself to too easy a polarisation or interpretation. Obojkovits has also produced a series of colour photographs of the same and similar objects, often interacting with part of a figure.

As I noted earlier, I believe this show is largely successful, but I think it fails in the claims it makes for itself. The work is a whole lot safer than that. Claiming that it is otherwise serves only to reveal how close it veers to the romantic in Dando's and the one-sided in Obojkovits' case. The art historical references this work invokes have since gone stale and revealed themselves to be limited and part of a flawed, colonial worldview. Drawing attention to the conventions which that work purported to reject does the work more harm than good.

Opening: December 10
Closing: January 25

Hänel Gallery, 84 Shortmarket Street, Cape Town
Tel: (021) 423-1406
Fax: (021) 423-5277
Gallery hours: Tuesday to Friday, 11am to 5pm; Saturday 10am to 2pm

Paul Edmunds

Paul Edmunds

'Cast' at the Bronze Age Foundry
by Sue Williamson

For many of the artists participating on 'Cast' at the Bronze Age Foundry in Simonstown, the invitation to take part in an exhibition of small bronzes came as a distinct departure from a current working mode, a challenge to produce a small, workable piece in a classic technique.

Many of the solutions were quite playful, and one got the feeling that the freedom to fool around with a new technique had been welcomed by most. Kevin Brand, co-instigator of the project, took a little diecast metal model car, and cast a whole fleet of them, daubing them casually with white enamel paint, a little smeared, and setting them up on pedestals to illustrate various basic art principles. Focal point: one car. Perspective: four cars converging on a point. Line quality four cars in a straight line. And so on. Cute.

What is the material most unlike bronze that one can imagine? Compacted polystyrene? Taking the supermarket trays used for packaging food, Paul Edmunds, rescuer of humble objects, added raised decorations in industrial metal style, thus patterning the undersurface. On the rich bronze finish of the final piece, under the gleamingly polished surface 'studs', one can still read the trademarks of the polystyrene tray. On another, he has simulated the patterning of cracked ceramic glaze on a tray, a disarming and slightly unsettling alchemy.

Doreen Southwood twists the classic Madonna and child sculpture mode with a witty, harried looking self-portrait piece of herself with not a child in her arms, but her white Maltese poodle, Miffy. Justine Mahoney also works with the human figure, producing half a dozen small female figures, from a pre-pubescent to a pregnant mother. Each has been painted in bright enamels. Small as they are, their perkiness and the neat and expressive way the figures had been rendered won the attention of many.

Having spent much of the early part of this year battling with his outsize public art bronze sculpture, Africa, based on a West African fetish figurine and Bart Simpson, Brett Murray must have been pleased to scale down a bit. Here, he casts a series of identical Action Man-type figures, pairing them as confrontational pairs: Muslim, Christian or Hutu, Tutsi, their identification an oval label in the base, but otherwise indistinguishable one from another.

Other exhibitors were Julia Clark, who updated the horse bronzes found in English cottages with contemporary South African motifs; Brendhan Dickerson with a trio of animal sculptures which included an ox with a bite out of its back, and Ilse Pahl, who attempted to transform, not all that successfully, bronze jelly moulds into a series of damaged crinoline like figures with the title of Once Upon a Time.

Opening: December 16
Closing: January 31

Bronze Age Foundry, King George Way, Simonstown
Tel: (021) 786-1816
Fax: (021) 786-2237

Gavin Anderson

Gavin Anderson
U.n.s.t.r.u.n.g: code Msinga, 2000
Mixed media on board




'Jabulisa 2000' at the Tatham
by Virginia MacKenny

'Jabulisa 2000', currently showing at the Tatham Gallery in Pietermaritzburg, is one of the larger showings of KwaZulu-Natal art of recent times.The result of a long regional selection process and exhibitions in five different centres, it presents over 130 works in a variety of media. Born out of the Natal Arts Trust Biennials of the late eighties and early nineties, 'Jabulisa 2000' follows the nationally touring 'Jabulisa: The Art of KwaZulu-Natal' (1996). 'Jabulisa 2000' is meant to highlight the strengths of the province, however there are problems in the conception of the show that make this well-nigh impossible.

After reading the publicity and the catalogue it remains unclear whether the curators see this as a show that presents contemporary cutting-edge art in KwaZulu Natal or a broad overview of what is going on provincially. Ill-defined, the show falls between two stools. Attempts to be inclusive lead to an unwieldy exhibition lacking curatorial focus - the viewer has to wade through too many traditionally inclined still-lives and landscapes, too many pots and the ubiquitous wire-work offerings, too many predictable, albeit technically able, works before anything of note begins to stand out. More major works on offer have a sense of being swamped by the quantities around them - which is a pity because there are works that engage at a deeper level and could have benefited from more attention.

Some of these include Isabella Quattrochi-Leigh's fascinating allegorical drawing constructed in metal pins on veils of metal and paper gauze, Linda Jones' computer print of an enlarged navel which seems to scream the memory of its birth pangs in the incongruous domesticity of an oval Victorian frame, Fiona Kirkwood's Energy Fields - crazy wire/fibre 'drawings' that visually buzz and Michelle Raubenheimer-Swan's sexualised ceramic conch which threatens to engulf one.

The strength of the show is also evident in the expansion of traditional vocabularies, the variety of appropriations, cross-overs and hybridity of production from both black and white artists. Sicelo Ziqubu's Why Guns and Roses utilises a critical interplay of history and imagination turning toy cowboys and Indians into Boers, Brits and Zulus, Gavin Anderson's U.n.s.t.r.u.n.g.: code Msinga acknowledges and deciphers symbolic bead systems, Langa Magwa's The South African Pot monumentalises a traditional pot in metal and animal hide whilst Isaac Khanyile's woven grass, Wathinta befazi Wathi'mbokodo populates the gallery in sentinel-like fashion.

Overall there is a general lo-tech feel to the show with only one video screen available with a programme of three works (switched off when this critic saw the show) and one interactive sound piece by Isabelle d'Hoftman de Villiers, also off. The paucity of work in this area does not reflect the offerings of the province and neither do the examples for some of the province's major artists. Jeremy Wafer is presented by one small work on glass - elegant and keen though it may be, it hardly effectively represents the work of an artist of national stature. Similarly Andries Botha, having a number of international shows to his credit last year, is (under)represented by two prints.

The conception of the catalogue reflects the same lack of critical direction exhibited in the exhibition. Composed of essays listing artists and their works, with very little attempt to interrogate their concerns, most take a chronological rather than conceptual position. Only Leeb du Toit and Botha provide any challenging thinking.

A tighter, more directed, show next time might produce more with which to engage.

Closing date: March 04

Tatham Art Gallery, Cnr Longmarket St and Commercial Rd, Pietermaritzburg
Tel: (033) 342 1801
Gallery hours: Tuesday - Sunday 10 am to 6 pm