Archive: Issue No. 56, April 2002

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Bronwen Findlay, Daina Mabunda and Faiza Galdhari
Installation view, Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg

Bronwen Findlay

Bronwen Findlay
Erythrina Seeds and Flowers
Oil paint
200 x 75 cm

Bronwen Findlay

Bronwen Findlay
Erythrina Seeds and Flowers (detail)

Bronwen Findlay

Bronwen Findlay
Linoleum Floor
Oil paint
200 x 75 cm

Bronwen Findlay

Bronwen Findlay
Oil paint
200 x 75 cm

Bronwen Findlay

Bronwen Findlay
Beads (detail)

Bronwen Findlay

Bronwen Findlay
Detail of mosaic work in progress, Melrose Arch, Johannesburg, 2001

Bronwen Findlay & Daina Mabunda

Bronwen Findlay and Daina Mabunda
Bedspread, oil paint, beads
Installation view, 'Bringing Up Baby'

Bronwen Findlay

Bronwen Findlay

Bronwen Findlay

Bronwen Findlay
Oil paint and hair

Bronwen Findlay

Bronwen Findlay
Oil paint and jawbone

Bronwen Findlay

Bronwen Findlay
Oil paint and roses

Bronwen Findlay

Bronwen Findlay
Currie Cup
Oil on canvas

Bronwen Findlay

Bronwen Findlay
Beaded Creatures
Oil paint

Bronwen Findlay

Bronwen Findlay
Elephant and Vase (detail)
Oil paint

Bronwen Findlay

Bronwen Findlay
Table Setting
Oil paint

Bronwen Findlay

Bronwen Findlay
Tablecloth and Eiffel Tower

Bronwen Findlay

Bronwen Findlay
African Landscape with Aeroplane
Oil on canvas

Bronwen Findlay

Bronwen Findlay in her studio

Bronwen Findlay
by Virginia MacKenny (April, 2002)


Bronwen Findlay, a nominee for this year's FNB Vita Art Prize, is known for her intensive engagement with the decorative. A printer and painter, she draws her subject matter from the domestic objects that surround her, such as doilies, tea sets, fabrics the linoleum floor of her kitchen. The rich decorative traditions of Durban cultures also offer inspiration - the complex intricacies of a mendhi design or the beaded surface of a Zulu doll are as likely to arrive in a painting as the willow pattern on her grandmother's china cup.

Durban's rich sub-tropical flora and fauna also provide quantities of visual stimulation. Findlay sees patterns everywhere: "I like looking down at the ground as I walk and seeing something and thinking, wouldn't that make a nice painting"; thus the fallen petals from a flowering tree or bluebottles washed up on the beach offer possibilities. She often paints subjects that other artists reject as kitsch or "not serious enough": sunsets and cosmos flowers. Generally she follows her intuition - "something happens and then I use it ... the way I live and the way I work become terribly fused".

She reuses her subject matter again and again, noting that ideas that were central in the 1980s recur even today. Ideas circulate not only in her own mind but in the minds of her collaborators. Daina Mabunda, a Tsonga-Shangana woman with whom she has worked for 15 years or so, often reworks Findlay's images, co-opting them for her own use in beaded and embroidered cloths. Findlay sometimes uses flour and water resist on large cloths to draw images and then leaves Mabunda to interpret them as she will. Mabunda's solutions often find their way back into Findlay's paintings.

While ostensibly bright and colourful, the results of Findlay's decorative instincts rarely sit comfortably. Her take on matters ornamental is often ironic, a satiric over-the-top spoof or a deconstructive process. She grows irritated with what she sees as "facile imitation" from younger painters who latch onto her use of "colour and pattern without anything beneath the surface - the little bit of unease that I bring to it". This "unease" is generated in particular by her manner of painting. Thick, sticky and glutinous, the paint is rarely "polite". A lock of her childhood hair, long kept by her mother in the family kist, is ensnared in a gooey matrix of glue and paint. A dead praying mantis and a budgie, real ones, are embalmed in the paint, as are decaying flowers. This is no sentimental preservation - while valorised, such objects are also destroyed. Flowers, most often the vehicle for soft-edged romanticism, here serve as the means for a sensibility that doesn't passively prettify. The great gobs and slashes of paint that masquerade as the petals of flowers could just as easily be roadkill or the innards of some slaughtered beast.


"Once I made a series of prints which I called my 'Alphabet Series'. I started by finding things in my house to draw. An old dressing gown cord (for D), my grandmother's egg cup (for E), a collection of toothbrushes visitors had left behind and which I arranged into a vase (for V), the pattern on my quilt (for Q). After rummaging through my possessions for alphabet letters I began to look for them outside my home - in the streets, in parks, gardens and graveyards (R for roses, F for fuchsia, W for wreath, J for jacaranda petals). I have used both flowers and meat as imagery in my works - there are similarities in colours and textures - blood, flesh, veins (O became offal). Recent experiences became another source for my alphabet letters. I had held a workshop in which I used enema syringes as a painting tool - the Zulu word for enema syringe is uchatho (U). A trip to a game reserve left me with a zebra postcard (Z) and a visit to Xihoko to see Daina Mabunda allowed me to depict the Xihoko birds she often embroiders (X).

"And so I find that attitudes and objects and people and places all jumble themselves into a space that becomes both my life and my work. The images I have described were printed in 1998/1999 but I feel that my approach to them can apply to the work I am presently involved with as well as previous work.


Findlay is working for the opening show of the Tamasa gallery in Durban. Wanting to make something "majestic" out of decoration, she took photos of the lotus flowers in Durban's Botanic Gardens and is using them juxtaposed against the flat background of her linoleum floor - which is, she says, "not so aggressively painterly as the lotus flowers".

The closure of the University of Durban-Westville's Fine Art Department at the end of 2000 saw Findlay retrenched from her position as lecturer in Painting, Printmaking and Drawing, a post she had held since 1993. Last year thus became crammed with projects. She produced a print for the internationally recognised Artists for Human Rights 'Break the Silence' HIV/Aids Billboard and Print Portfolio Project; a life-size linocut for 'SELF' at the Klein Karoo Festival in Oudtshoorn; and worked on a large commissioned mosaic project with Andrew Verster and Jane du Rand. Here she shared design and application responsibilities for over 400 square metres of mosaic on the lift shaft, tower block, interior and exterior walls of a building at Melrose Arch in Johannesburg, designed by Omm Design Workshop.

Also in 2001 she curated and co-ordinated 'Painting, Printing, Stitching', an exhibition of her own work and that of Daina Mabunda and Faiza Galdhari, which won the three women their nomination for the FNB Vita award. The exhibition was characterised by signs of "women's work" such as cooking and sewing, domestic objects, intimate friendships across cultural divides and a strong sense of the sacred. Despite a long history of workshops and projects involving teamwork, Findlay says she is not keen on collaboration and it was only by accident that she became involved with Mabunda and Galdhari. She met Mabunda in the late 1980s when she was conducting fabric-painting workshops for Tsonga-Shangana women and working on her Masters thesis, 'Aspects of Cloth Usage and Adaptation amongst Tsonga-Shangana women of the Northern Transvaal'. Later she found herself sharing office/studio space with Galdhari, then a Masters student at the University of Durban-Westville.

'Painting, Printing, Stitching' was born out of the three women's urge to do something together. On seeing the NSA space that was to house the exhibition, Findlay says: "I decided to decorate it." Large walls called for engagement and each participant set about working on 4m-high wall cloths. Roundels provided another unifying formal device and each of the artists engaged with the others' work in some way. The exhibition travelled to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown and then on to the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg with additional works under the new title 'Threads'.

Not wishing to be typecast as a feminist or woman artist, Findlay nonetheless often finds herself involved in such initiatives. 'The Hour-Glass Project - A Woman's Vision' saw her working with Malcolm Christian at Caversham Press and a group of 14 women who utilise printmaking for expression. Including artists from South Africa, Ireland, the UK, the USA and Mexico the project provided space to foster an understanding of cultural diversity. Findlay has continuously worked in the print medium alongside her painting. She says she engages with printmaking in a direct way, trying to make it "more spontaneous than it is normally considered - more like painting".


In 1999 Findlay was artist-in-residence at the Grahamstown festival, where she displayed the series of alphabet prints referred to in her artist's statement above. She also held a solo exhibition at the South African Women's Arts Festival at the Playhouse in Durban. In 1998 she and Mabunda collaborated on Bed-Spread for Terry Kurgan's show 'Bringing Up Baby'. The work was covered with 50 circles divided equally between the two artists, embellished with silhouettes of the hands of family and friends, flowers and other objects, Findlay painted her 25 first and then passed the cloth to Mabunda, who proceeded to embroider and bead over Findlay's panels as well as her own. Such surprises Findlay easily embraces - seeing the work at night for the first time, the beads twinkling in the light of a paraffin lamp at Mabunda's home, was, she says, a magical experience.

Findlay's work often prompts strongly negative reviews - Lloyd Pollak's largely laudatory review of 'Bringing Up Baby' singled out Bed-Spread as a "gaudy hideosity", while David Baskin dismissed her contribution to the 'Threads' exhibition in one line. Such responses situate Findlay's work as merely pretty, or ugly as the case may be, and thus lacking in content or depth. As such they fail to note the viscerality of her handling of paint that allows for the transformation of the ordinary.

That others take her work more seriously is evidenced by her inclusion in shows such as 'Siyawela: Love, Loss and Liberty', curated by Colin Richards and Pitika Ntuli at the Birmingham City Art Museum as part of the UK's Africa '95 exhibition. Also in 1995, her African Landscape with Aeroplane (1986) left these shores with 'Panoramas of Passage - Changing Landscape of South Africa', a group exhibition that travelled to the US; and 'Transitions - Contemporary Art from the Republic of South Africa', part of the 1995 Bath International Festival, carried her work to the UK.


Findlay is working on her collaboration with Mabunda and Galdhari for the FNB Vita Art Prize and will soon be leaving Durban for a six-month teaching stint at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Born Pietermaritzburg, 1953

Selected qualifications:
Master of Arts in Fine Art (Cum Laude), University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg
BA Honours (Fine Art) (Cum Laude), University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg

Selected exhibitions:
Curated and co-ordinated 'Painting, Printing, Stitching - The work of Bronwen Findlay, Daina Mabunda, Faiza Galdhari'. NSA Gallery, Durban; Standard Bank National Arts Festival, Grahamstown; Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg (renamed 'Threads')
Artists for Human Rights. 'Break the Silence: HIV/Aids Billboard and Print Portfolio Project'
'Self' - exhibition of life-size linocuts. Klein Karoo Festival, Oudtshoorn
'The Hour Glass Project'. Standard Bank National Arts Festival, Grahamstown; Atlanta, USA; Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg
Solo show at the 1999 South African Women's Arts Festival. Sponsored by the Playhouse Company and Transnet
'Bringing Up Baby - Artists Survey the Reproductive Body' curated by Terry Kurgan. Standard Bank National Arts Festival, Grahamstown; The Castle, Cape Town
'30°S x 31°E - Four Durban Artists: Bronwen Findlay, Jeremy Wafer, Aidan Walsh, David Haigh'. Lipschitz Gallery, Cape Town
UTSAV exhibition with artists from India and South Africa, curated by Uma Prakash in honour of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. Durban Art Gallery
'Music and Image' - prints made at the Cavesham Press. Standard Bank National Arts Festival, Grahamstown
'15 Graduates of the Dept of Fine Art'. University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg
Stepping Stone Press - Exhibition of limited edition hand-printed lithographs. NSA Gallery, Gallery
Exhibition with Jeremy Wafer. NSA Gallery, Durban
Solo exhibition. Elizabeth Gordon Gallery, Durban
'Jabulisa: The Art of KwaZulu Natal' travelling exhibition. Johannesburg, Pietermaritzburg, Durban
'Transitions: Contemporary Art from the Republic of South Africa'. Bath, England
'Panoramas of Passage: Changing Landscapes of South Africa'. Touring exhibition organised by Meridian International Centre, Washington DC
'Siyawela: Love, Loss and Liberty' - Africa '95 exhibition curated by Colin Richards and Pitika Ntuli, University of Witwatersrand. Birmingham City Art Museum, England
'Objects of Desire'. Thompson Gallery, Johannesburg
MA exhibition. Jack Heath Gallery, University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg
Three Institution Exhibition - Natal University, Natal Technikon and University of Durban-Westville
National Arts Initiative Exhibition, Natal Technikon
'Art Meets Science - Flowers as Image'. Grahamstown Festival and national travelling exhibition
Solo exhibition. Elizabeth Gordon Gallery, Durban
Volkskas Atelier. Association of Arts, Pretoria
Volkskas Atelier. Association of Arts, Pretoria
Exhibition with Adrian Walsh. Gallery International, Cape Town
Group exhibition with Jeremy Wafer, Clive van den Berg, Andries Botha, Bonnie Ntshalinshali and Fee Halstead. NSA Gallery, Durban
Volkskas Atelier. Association of Arts, Pretoria
Group exhibition. Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris
Exhibition with Virginia MacKenny and Jeremy Wafer. NSA Gallery, Durban
Solo exhibition. Cafe Geneve, Durban
Durban Artists. Elizabeth Gordon Gallery, Durban
End Conscription Campaign Exhibition, Durban
Volkskas Atelier. Association of Arts, Pretoria
Group exhibition with Andrew Verster and Clive van den Berg. Association of Arts, Pretoria
National Paper Works Exhibition. Natal Society of Arts, Durban
Solo exhibition. Natal Society of Arts, Durban
Solo exhibition. Walsh Marais Gallery, Durban

Artist-in-Residence - Standard Bank National Arts Festival, Grahamstown

Mosaic project with Andrew Verster and Jane du Rand for a building designed by architects from Omm Design Workshop at Melrose Arch in Johannesburg
Designed covers for Alternation: Journal of the Centre for the Study of Southern African Literature and Languages
Flower painting for the Botany Department, University of Cape Town
'Art meets Science', commissioned for the Grahamstown Festival and printed at Caversham Press
Portfolio of prints commissioned by First National Bank. Printed at the Caversham Press
Mural for the Malherbe Library, University of Natal, Durban
'Happy Birthday, Andrew' - Portfolio of prints by various artists commissioned by the Goodman Gallery and printed at the Caversham Press

Public collections:
Technikon Natal, Durban
Durban Art Gallery, Durban
Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg
Unisa Collection, Pretoria
Gertrude Posel Gallery, University of Witwatersrand
Natal Provincial Administration, Pietermaritzburg
Botany Department, University of Cape Town
ABSA Bank Collection
Engen Collection
Empangeni Art and Culture History Museum, Empangeni
Carnegie Art Museum - Newcastle, Natal
Margate Art Museum, Natal
KwaZulu Natal Provincial Administration
Sasol Collection, Johannesburg

Community activity:

Extensive involvement with education and informal community-based art programmes conducting workshops, training and mural and mosaic projects including:
Conducted a training programme for Embo craft with a group of rural, unemployed women in the Shongweni Valley
Upward Bound, University of Durban-Westville. Facilitated series of workshops for 17 schools in Kwa Zulu Natal
Mural Facilitator for Murals at New Welfare and Pensions office, Umbumbulu. Designed and painted series of murals, assisted by Niven Anghar, Asiya Swaleh and Geeta Ramparsad
Crafts Council Fair: Fabric Painting Techniques, Slideshow and Workshop, Durban Exhibition Centre
Co-ordinated and painted interior and exterior of container to be used as pre-primary school for street children, Makabongwe School (corner of Brook and Victoria Street)
Printmaking Workshop for the African Art Centre held at Natal Technikon, sponsored by SIDA


Alan Alborough
(July 2000)
Jane Alexander
(July 1999)
Siemon Allen
(June 2001)
Willie Bester
(Aug 1999)
Willem Boshoff
(Aug 2001)
Conrad Botes
(Dec 2001)
Andries Botha
(April 2000)
Kevin Brand
(June 1998)
Candice Breitz
(Oct 1998)
Lisa Brice
(Jan 1999)
Pitso Chinzima
(Oct 2001)
Steven Cohen
(May 1998)
Linda Givon
(Dec 1999)
Brad Hammond
(Jan 2001)
Randolph Hartzenberg
(Aug 1998)
Kay Hassan
(Oct 2000)
Stephen Hobbs
(Dec 1998)
Robert Hodgins
(June 2000)
William Kentridge
(May 1999)
Isaac Khanyile
(Nov 2001)
Dorothee Kreutzfeld
(Jan 2000)
Terry Kurgan
(Aug 2000)
Moshekwa Langa
(Feb 1999)
Mandla Mabila
(Sept 2001)
Veronique Malherbe
(June 1999)
Mustafa Maluka
(July 1998)
Senzeni Marasela
(Feb 2000)
Zwelethu Mthethwa
(April 1999)
Thomas Mulcaire
(April 2001)
Brett Murray
(Sept 1998)
Hylton Nel
(Feb 2002)
Karel Nel
(Oct 1999)
Walter Oltmann
(July 2001)
Tracy Payne
(Mar 1998)
Peet Pienaar
(Dec 2000)
Jo Ractliffe
(Mar 1999)
Robin Rhode
(Nov 1999)
Tracey Rose
(Mar 2001)
Claudette Schreuders
(Sept 2000)
Berni Searle
(May 2000)
Usha Seejarim
(May 2001)
Penny Siopis
(Sept 1999)
Dave Southwood
(Mar 2002)
Greg Streak
(Feb 2001)
Clive van den Berg
(Nov 1998)
Hentie van der Merwe
(Mar 2000)
Strijdom van der Merwe
(Jan 2002)
Minnette Vári
(Feb 1998)
Jeremy Wafer
(Nov 2000)