Marieke Kruger at Bell-Roberts
by Erin Odell
Marieke Kruger's solo exhibition 'To A Promised Land' is a personal journey of discovery and contemplation, grappling with what it means to be a woman in South Africa today living in this diverse land. Kruger's project has an intimate and detailed graphic style. She combines diverse media such as charcoal, pastel, paper, digital and lithographic prints. This eclecticism reflects the nature of women's identities today, multi-tasking between visual, physical and emotional worlds balanced with a spiritual journey that is reflected in her use of biblical metaphors, ancient symbolism and surreal images.
The dramatic entrance of Gates of Heaven takes up an entire wall and Tower of God reaches five metres high. Kruger's style here is Romantic and sublime in fashion, creating an intense tone which does not, however, always resonate with later works. Gates of Heaven uses tea-stained paper as a backdrop for the overpowering, weathered yet solid Arc de Triomf-like structure. Kruger's work is reflective and ambiguous in nature: faces, fish with human heads and intricate symbolic figures decorate this classic sculptural monument originally built to evoke French nationalism and pride. Kruger is giving us clues to her heritage, beliefs in the Kingdom of Heaven and the reality of our material earth compared with a spiritual promised land and how we could possibly get there. However, it seems we as viewers are somewhat distanced from what Kruger really feels; although the image is powerful and concrete we are still left wondering what it really means for us today.
Tower of God carries the same intense tone: it is dark and blue. It draws the viewer's eyes immediately up to take in the immensity of the structure as one literally faces the heavens, feeling somewhat inferior in an apparent comparison of natural and man-made structures. This is a man-made monument of immense skill and decoration but its nature could reveal an element of frustration, struggle and fear. Does Kruger perhaps question faith and the idols that we build to our gods?
The artist speaks from a Christian perspective but also references a diversity of cultural, religious, spiritual and fashionable trends that have impacted over time upon contemporary women and South Africans. This historical sense is evident in her use of various ancient and mythological symbols. Is she trying to persuade us to consider different perspectives physically and spiritually, or is she struggling with her own acceptance of other beliefs? Kruger does not make it completely clear but keeps the viewer thinking.
Women: Three Generations and Eve are less dramatic in tone and almost a let-down: the works do not live up to the intensity of the others though both are delicate and feminine. The former has three sections: each represents a new generation starting with grandmothers, mothers and daughters. The work is more self-explanatory, reflecting the idea of different backgrounds and passing down feminine traditions and identities. The crochet stitching, although beautiful, clashes with the flow of the graphic style used consistently throughout the exhibition. The Eve series contains six lithographic prints of various different ancient sculptures of women each holding baby dolls in their wombs. This reiterates the theme of accepting difference while acknowledging universal similarities like pregnancy, bodily shape and motherhood.
Wedding Feast (I and II) reverts back to biblical metaphors. Kruger addresses people's relationship with the Church as the 'Bride of Christ', God and their physical settings signified by the portraits of actual people, chest x-rays with religious temple plans marked out, and aerial maps of Paarl marked with a red route. Once again, the relationship between nature, people and man-made structures in determining our relational, physical and spiritual identities seems important to the artist. However, there are still nuances only revealed in Kruger's statement on her artworks. For instance, in Wedding Feast II Kruger reveals the images are of street people she has contact with daily in her home town of Paarl. They apparently reflect the biblical story in Mathew, which describes the Wedding Feast that was opened freely to anyone after invited guests had declined to attend. Perhaps Kruger is suggesting that even the unwanted of our society can find refuge in the temple of God, feast at His table and put on the wedding clothes.
To a Promised Land (I to IV) completes the complex journey. These serene charcoal and pastel sketches of Paarl rock are combined with digital aerial prints of a local route map and pictures of chalk drawings on rock. The landscape is romantic in depiction and reflective in nature, just as in the earlier works. The different perspectives of Paarl rock emphasise the recurring questions of different identities and perspectives in physical, spiritual and emotional realms that Kruger explores throughout the exhibition.
Kruger shepherds us through images evoking 19th Century Romanticists, universal biblical events and symbols that project the theme of multiple journeys and identity found in God, the church, the world, gender and our land. Her work is thought-provoking, dynamic and sometimes ambiguous at first glance. Yet it is richly overwhelming in detail, creating a desire for intense concentration and discovery that ultimately leads to relief as the viewer slowly connect the dots.
Erin Odell is an honours student at the UCT History of Art Department
Opens: August 16
Closes: September 9
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