VEGA Navigators and Sifiso KaMkame, Andrew Verster, Kristin Yang and Gabi Nkosi at the KZNSA Gallery
by Carol Brown
An unidentified photographer, covered in black cloth looking through a camera on a tripod, is busy surveying the eThembeni Cemetery in Groutville from the roof of an old deserted house when he is snapped by another photographer, Steve Kotze. The catching of that one moment which contains multiple stories is what makes this particular photograph memorable. The metaphor of the observer being observed is played out here on several levels.
The photographer who has the vantage point from the roof is focused on the cemetery which in itself is a view into the world of the departed. The photographer on the ground removes reality one step further by capturing the action of his subject, another photographer. And so we construct reality! The irony and inventiveness of this photograph is echoed in another work which is on the 2 storey high wall on the opposite end of the gallery, host to 'Miscellaneous' an exhibition by teaching staff from VEGA The Brand Communication School. Here Vaughn Sadie has drawn an image of a street light directly onto the wall. Below this, on the floor, is a flat black vinyl figure which suggests the shadow cast from the light. But the shadow only fully reveals its form when viewed from above. More artifice, tricks of vision and manipulation of materials where the shadow has more substance than the object casting it. Were these two images deliberately placed opposite each other or is it accidental serendipity? We don't know, and so the exhibition continues. We are constantly teased out of our comfort zones and usual perspectives and jolted into looking at the familiar re-presented in new ways.
These mental shifts are also played out in Rike Sitas' installation which uses cut-out extracts of text taken from popular media advertising from the 50s. These have been overlaid with her comments which subvert the original meanings bringing a contemporary critique to them which is at times humorous and sometimes cynical. The passage of time changes perceptions and attitudes and this is subtly indicated by Sitas' juxtapositions.
Time and memory are also invoked in Naretha Pretorius' sensitive and romantic images of fragments of lives gone by. Her photographs evoke human absence through the portrayal of simple objects such as a pair of earrings alongside an evening bag, or a teacup with a biscuit in the saucer symbolically suggesting a daily ritual. The subtle, almost faded colours are evocative of times gone by and are triggers of memory. They are suggestive of family and the ties that bind through generations and the power of simple things which evoke forgotten moments. The Afrikaans titles place them in a specific personal domestic context which has wider connotations of culture and place.
Much of the work is graphically-based and uses contemporary technology to tantalise and tease which is unsurprising given the nature of the teaching institution from which it hails. In the 10 years of VEGA's existence, the school has established itself as one of the most exciting creative centres in the country and the aim of following Reg Lascaris' vision of being 'The School of Great Ideas' is evident in this show. The lecturers, or 'navigators', as they are known, set the tone for their students through the exhibition of this work which may not always produce what is considered serious or even decorative art, but is more about stretching the boundaries of the imagination and enabling a different vision to be shown.
In the Nivea Gallery alongside the main space is another sleight of hand. KZNSA Gallery curator, Nathi Gumede, has commenced an organic process where established artists exhibit a body of work alongside younger, less exposed artists. His aim is to allow the process to determine its own parameters and to test whether it will work or whether one group will overshadow or inspire the other. In this show the 'wow' factor was Andrew Verster's life-size paintings where the back views of glowing red bodies are decorated with patterns inspired by the contemporary craze for tattoos.
Body decoration in one form or another is an ancient art and Verster has transposed what is essentially street and body art into spectacular paintings. Verster has been exhibiting for close on 40 years and his vision never dims. It becomes more inspirational with the years. The last 10 years have seen him enter into the arenas of theatre sets, costume design, and extended public art programmes. India has exerted a great influence on his life and work and all these threads draw together in the body decorations of the paintings. They become like a record of a life's journey which are placed onto the male body which occupied his art particularly in his Surfer series of the 70s. Those young, fragile bodies now face the world like peacocks proclaiming a new era with triumph.
The marriage of Vega's 'out of the box' vision and Verster's bold proclamations has resulted in a stimulating exhibition.
Carol Brown is Director of the Durban Art Gallery
VEGA Navigators at the KZNSA Gallery:
Opened: October 17
Closed: October 29
Sifiso KaMkame, Andrew Verster, Kristin Yang and Gabi Nkosi at the KZNSA Gallery:
Opened: October 3
Closed: October 29
The KZNSA Gallery
166 Bulwer Road, Glenwood, Durban
Tel: (031) 202 3686
fax: (031) 201 8051
Hours: Tue - Fri 10am - 5pm, Sat - Sun 10am - 4pm