Archive: Issue No. 85, September 2004

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Daphne Prevoo

Daphne Prevoo

Daphne Prevoo

Daphne Prevoo

'Inversions' by Daphne Prevoo at the NSA
by Gabi Ngcobo

Like every displaced, un-placed or non-placed person, Daphne Prevoo creates art out of that emptiness in her attempt to fill it with things that make sense in her placements and in reflecting that which doesn't hold. Prevoo, born in the Netherlands, lives one half of the year in Mbabane, Swaziland and the other half in England, neither being her country of origin.

In her quest for identity, she investigates borders and limits that she has encountered in her estrangements, whether physical, geographical or sexual; these borders are at times self-imposed but are also real or imposed on her.

I had just returned to Durban when I met someone who asked if I had seen the ugly sculptures at the NSA. Confused I dashed to the gallery, where Prevoo's 'Inversions' had just opened, and, I must agree that these sculptural installations have little to do with beauty or aesthetics. Rather, they reflect a striking presence of confined spaces, spaces that are not necessarily beautiful. These spaces can be found in our homes, at work or within us as we try to create a safe place for ourselves. They can in turn imprison us and limit our movement, whether physical or spiritual.

I found myself identifying with these confines and am sure many South Africans will feel the same. The high walls, electric fences and pictures of vicious dogs that have become part of our urban landscape have irreversibly changed the way we feel about property and spaces in general.

The idea of fencing has shifted over the years. I recall my family house in the township was fenced with concrete that was painted in bright colours and the garden reached right up to it. Threatening violence was not the issue at the time; what was more important was the marking of one's property and a pride in ownership.

The cages and faces in Prevoo's work however, show a preoccupation with objects of demarcation and are recurring elements communicating a search for personal confines. The chair is a recurring element which gives one a strong sense of an authoritative presence found in places where chauvinism and power are at play.

By making these objects strange, elongated or joined together in contradictory ways, Prevoo creates an uncomfortable space where the uncanny and the absurd reign. The Clothing pieces, which include a set of seven sweaters joined by the sleeves as well as other strange looking forms, evoke the strangeness of being a misfit in the society.

In the Multi Media room is a work entitled I love you, a video piece featuring two of the artist's close friends engaged in the intimate child-like practice of pillow kissing. In the background a sexy adult voice says 'I love you' over and over, adding to the feeling of discomfort coupled with the shame of entering an unsettlingly intimate scene.

Prints taken from the artist's drawings and notes cover one wall of the gallery. They are engaging and at first might seem to be explanations of the rest of the installation, but as I look on, read on and feel on, I begin to understand that they are there to support rather than make sense of what is already there.

There were some personal reflections that I found brave to display for public consumption; reflections of the fear that is in every artist's mind - the what-ifs and what-nots that were liberating to read through.