by Tavish McIntosh (December 2008)
At first glance, Dineo Bopape's work seems frivolous, a glut of neon colours and brash combinations. And this appearance is not deceiving: fun, frivolity and play is an essential part of her project. Laughter is an indispensable element of the human condition. Freud surmised that jokes involve primary psychic processes, providing a vital release mechanism for rising tensions, sharply bridled desires and repressed anger. Bopape strategically deploys playfulness to unlock hidden repressions, forgotten memories and deep psycho-sexual issues.
Jimmy and his fabulous dildo is a case in point. At the 'Cape 07' exhibition at Lookout Hill, Khayelitsha, Bopape installed an altar to the domestic triad of mother, father and child in a typical 50s kitchen cabinet behind purple organza curtains. The central television set showed the figure of 'Jimmy' talking to his Vienna sausage: 'Mummy!' 'Daddy!?!' The absurdity of a grown man seriously addressing infantile speech to this phallic replacement is undeniable.
Bopape turns shaking her head - the earliest escape mechanism that the young child learns in order to disengage from the persecuting breast which threatens to flood it with food into a rhythmic dance in the video Under all means Necessary.
Bopape speeds up, shaking the head from side to side until her head and hair begin to blur, creating beautiful abstract lines across the screen. Initially this denial reminds one that this would be among the first signs that the child is asserting their individuality and making independent choices. Gradually the infantile nature of shaking one's head becomes also a denial not only of the maternal figure but also of a masculine cultural legacy embodied in the work of kingpin Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock. The abstract patterns of Bopape's hair waving across the screen are like the skeins of paint that Pollock dispersed across his canvas. But here the figure of the artist is also insistently part of the work denying the universal (read masculinist) implications of abstraction.
Both of these works are exemplary of Bopape's unconventional approach to the domesticated human subject. Installation and video are her media of choice and in both, her spontaneous attitude towards artmaking comes across. The work is not conventionally 'finished', although the set-up of the installation is close to her heart. She uses installation to disrupt the pristine space of the gallery, to create an almost homely environment where playing, messing and laughter are allowed. Typical elements that appear in her work are plastic lawns, disco balls, plastic packets filled with unknown goodies, arbitrary lightbulbs, ripped and shredded fabrics, cracked and broken umbrellas. But perhaps the most recognisable element in her ouevre is her concern with wrapping, veiling and disguising, which manifests itself in absurd hangings of goodies obscured by plastic packaging.
'My work is a search through a minefield of metaphors in spaces... spaces of memory and of the present, spaces of the real and the imagined, the hidden and revealed. It is an attempt to conceal and mask, whilst simultaneously attempting to peel away the husk and layers that crust over secretive stories embedded in objects and in people.' (2007, statement for solo exhibition in Amsterdam)
'Having the luxury to dream and not speak about "I am a black woman", is also something political. With my previous work I got annoyed with it only being read from the political angle, and the aesthetic sense not being as important. It is always both. I wanted to make a shift, so the aesthetic becomes more important than the narrative or grand narrative. I think, maybe it is a conscious move away from work that is overtly political. I am thinking here of the writer Sello Duiker's work - it is about the everyday, not saying Madiba or Zuma. For me, because it is more personal it engages you more, and you can get further into the person's story, than just speaking about leaders.' (in conversation with Cara Snyman and Melissa Mboweni, 2008)
'urgh-artist statement... mine is in the process of changing, thinking... if i told you anything else, it would be an absolute lie!' (2008)
'She is a queen of collaboration, not only with the people she works with (Tangencya, Red Eye and Imvubelo to name a few) but also with the seemingly everyday and mundane objects she intricately meshes into collective narratives and memories. Although people may seem absent from Bopape's work they/we are ever-present in her fine-tuned fixation with material possessions and the economic, social and cultural contexts they imply. The work becomes as a whole, a portraiture of the masses and multitudes, where individual identification is subsumed by an our-ness which is somewhat unprecedented.' - Rike Sitas
'What Jimmy's performance [in Jimmy and his fabulous dildo], which seems to be an attempt to raise his status to that of a respected equal (Mother and Father) rather than a subordinate (child), exposes is the ultimately impossible reversal of these domestic borders, as well as the impossibility of transcending them entirely.' Francis Burger
'studying... mfa at columbia, doing a theoretical course on psychoanalytic trajectories, and struggling to find time in the studio because there is just sooooooo much to do... sooo much to see... eating the elephant (new york and columbia uni, and life in general) one bite at a time... so after i finish here... i want to go everywhere, I am enjoying that my feet are on the ground now, it would be cool to have a stable base for about five years or so...whilst going up and down...'
Bopape won the MTN New Contemporaries Award in September this year. MTN New Contemporaries is a curated exhibition which brings together a selection of young artists who promise to be stars of tomorrow. The 2008 exhibition was curated by Melissa Mboweni. Judges Khwezi Gule, Nathi Gumede, Bongi Dhlomo-Mautloa, Kathryn Smith and Annali Cabano-Dempsey decided on Bopape in the face of some stiff competition.
Bopape attended the prestigious De Ateliers in Amsterdam in 2006 and 2007, where the constraints of the aeroplane hold meant that she had to part with many of her prized possessions, including her buckles, bags, letters, tampons, forks and other paraphernalia, in order to start afresh. Having been fascinated by the investments we make in everyday junk, Bopape began to look towards other less tangible psycho-sexual attachments. She produced the infamous Jimmy and his fabulous dildo during this period, turning the lens onto those in her immediate surroundings. Bopape explains the significance of this different environment: 'being at ateliers gave me access to view other artists' works - videos and projects that I may have not seen had i been at home - perhaps it also changed the directions that I was taking in my work, and how i thought about it...'
Dineo Bopape was born in 1981 in Polokwane. She graduated with a B Tech from the Durban Institute of Technology in 2004.
2004 'Tangencya', Durban
2004 'Women's day Imvubelo' at Durban Art Gallery
2005 'In the Making: materials and process', Michael Stevenson, Cape Town
2005 'Urban Woman two zero zero five', African Art Centre, Durban
2006 'New painting', KZNSA Gallery in Durban, Unisa Gallery in Pretoria and Johannesburg Art Gallery
2006 'Shared history/decolonising the image', Arti and Amicitiae in Amsterdam
2007 'Cape 07', Cape Town
2007 'Off-spring', De Ateliers, Amsterdam
2008 'Disguise', Michael Stevenson, Cape Town
2008 'MTN New Contemporaries Award', University of Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg
2008 - 9 'Black Womanhood: Image, Icon and Ideology', Hood Museum of Art, New Hampshire, Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Massachussets, San Diego Museum of Art
2008 '.za: giovane arte dal sudafrica' Palazzo delle Papesse, Siena
2008 'Scratching the surface' l'appartement 22, Morocco
2008 'Scratching the surface vol.1' AVA, Cape Town
2005 'Keep it to yourself', KZNSA Gallery, Durban
2007 'Non in mind (fictions unending)', Mart House, Amsterdam
2008 'It's a celebration bitches!!!', Thami Mnyele Studios, Amsterdam
2008 'Lovestrung', KZNSA Gallery, Durban
2008 MTN New Contemporaries Award