Archive: Issue No. 80, April 2004

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Deborah Bell

Deborah Bell
Sentinels, 2003
Corobrick fire light or topaz clay and cement
260cm x variable dimensions

Deborah Bell

Deborah Bell
Sentinels (detail of group), 2003
Corobrick fire light or topaz clay and cement
260cm x variable dimensions

New Publication from TAXI Art Books and Coinciding Exhibition at Goodman Gallery
by Kresta Tyler

As part of their ongoing programme to promote an awareness of contemporary South African visual art, TAXI Art Books and David Krut Publishing are releasing their 10th publication, this one on Deborah Bell. The aim of TAXI is to address the lack of published documentation on contemporary South African artists who have produced large bodies of work. The book is written by Pippa Stein who has incorporated texts by William Kentridge and Robert Hodgins, and an interview with academic Achille Mbembe and visual arts educationalist Ruth Sack.

Deborah Bell is a Johannesburg-based painter, printmaker and sculptor whose work is created in dialogue with multiple worlds, texts, histories and consciousnesses. Bell's drawings, etchings and monumental clay sculptures possess a kind of mystical godliness. Her art-making is a spiritual practice and she is inspired by museum objects from ancient civilisations, including African, Babylonian and Egyptian. Her work incorporates multi-layered references to past and present worlds and depicts how she defines herself as an artist in Africa, working with materials such as clay and bronze.

This book is the first overview of Bell's career and provides the reader with multiple perspectives from which to perceive Bell's work. The artist's voice is present in writings from her personal notebooks. In the section on Bell's collaborations with William Kentridge and Robert Hodgins, all three artists reflect independently on the nature of Bell's contribution to the various printmaking and film/ video projects they have undertaken. A conversation on her Unearthed sculptures with Achille Mbembe, renowned social theorist from Wits Institute of Social and Economic Research, opens up important debates around histories, geographies and artistic appropriation.

Pippa Stein, author and compiler of this book, is a writer and teacher in the School of Literature and Language Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. She has published widely in the area of culture, literacies and education. The book is accompanied by an Educational Supplement devised and written by Ruth Sack of the IMBALI Visual Literacy Project, the purpose of which is to facilitate teaching by high school teachers and study by art students.

The book will be sold for R150 (incl. VAT) from TAXI Art Books at 140 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parkwood, Johannesburg 2193, and from leading bookshops in South Africa.

TAXI - 010 Deborah Bell - Book will be launched at franchise, 44 Stanley Avenue, 6pm, Thursday April 1 by Steven Sack, the new Director of Arts, Culture and Heritage Services at the Johannesburg Metropolitan Council.

Coinciding with the launch of TAXI's book on Deborah Bell is her new exhibition at Goodman Gallery entitled 'Sentinels'.

The Gallery has been transformed to create a mythical world. Initially upon entering, one is met by Bell's drawings that depict statuesque sentinels. Suddenly you turn and find yourself in a dimly lit circle with the same figures now in concrete form peering down on you. I was moved to stand there and be regarded by these godlike statues, as I attempted to discern their spiritual nature. With the shades drawn on the large windows that normally flood the Gallery with light I was able to forget Jan Smuts Avenue and the hustle outside. For a moment I was alone with these mystical figures. The mixed media pieces that are tucked around the corner become lost in the aura that the sentinels exude. Everyone should be so fortunate as to be caught in the gaze of these sentinels, have a second to reflect, and then begin to imagine where Bell may be going from here.

The exhibition runs from March 20, 2004 through April 17, 2004.