CTAF 2015

gauteng listings

The One

Lawrence Lemaoana
The One, . Photographic print .

'Deconstructing Dogma: an exhibition of transgressive Christian iconography in South African art'

Various Artists at Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture (FADA)

Christian iconography is a useful communicative strategy because it has permeated many cultures over centuries, and the meanings it carries are accessible to large numbers of people. Representations of religious icons, such as Christ and Mary or various saints and martyrs, thus have the potential to be widely understood. But religious imagery is often held sacred or is regarded with a degree of reverence, thus ensuring an emotive response when iconoclasm or transgression of any sort is identified. Images which are bluntly transgressive run a risk of causing considerable offence.  

The struggle over religious imagery and its significance in sacramental terms has had a complex history that has been the topic of many studies regarding the function of images and has ultimately led to the development of current non-religious studies in visual culture. Margaret Miles (2002:62,63) describes the original iconoclastic controversy as “the first debate over representation”, and notes that even today 'many of the issues and arguments of iconoclasm are still detectable in…debates over the power of images in media cultures'. It is important to understand both the history and the reverence with which religious images are held in order to understand why there is such a residue of feeling attributed to such imagery today. The religious icon as a visual motif is metaphorically connected to the core belief of Christian dogma in the presence of Christ as a physical, tangible, visual manifestation of spiritual force. 

It is not the spirituality of religious iconography, however, but the underlying social messages in such imagery that is brought into question by the artists on this exhibition.  The history of Christianity can be read in Foucault’s terms as a history of power and regulation of the masses. Christianity in South Africa has a history of underpinning Nationalist state policies that reinforced the censorship laws and largely informed Afrikaner dominance under apartheid. By parodying sacred imagery in a transgressive way these artists are able to engage transgressively with inherited religious sensibilities in order to disturb complacent viewing.  Viewers are thus encouraged to engage critically with underlying implications in the presentation of Christian icons that may not be apparent in the original context; particularly those relating to the historic misappropriation of Christianity as a language of power, and the narrow interpretation of male and female identity promoted by Christian role models.  

Prof Karen von Veh from the Department of Visual Art, (FADA, UJ), the curator of this show, argues that such interpretations provide a valuable strategy for contemporary artists to engage with perceived social inequalities in South Africa.  The selected artists will address amongst other the ways in which religious iconography has been bound up with the regulation of society, construction of gender and racial identities, political and social change, abuse of power by role models and politicians and violence.  

The exhibition includes work by Conrad Botes, Wim Botha, Majak Bredell, Christiaan Diedericks, Christine Dixie, Gordon Froud, Lawrence Lemaoana, Julie Lovelace, Jacki McInnes, Diane Victor and Derek Zietsman.

The exhibition will be opened by Prof. Brenda Schmahmann, Research Professor at the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, University of Johannesburg.

06 May - 29 May

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