Osart Gallery is delighted to present African Textures, an exhibition that explores the emerging South African artistic scene through the work of Jeanne Gaigher (1990, Cape Town), Kresiah Mukwazhi (1992, Harare, Zimbabwe) and Marlene Steyn (1989, Cape Town).
The word ‘texture’ in the title of the exhibition refers both to the technique used in the works on display and to the social and political structure of the African continent, in which different cultures and contexts are layered and interwoven. The fabric is thus interpreted as the ‘bridge’ linking the origins of the three young artists to their contemporary identity.
The group show revolves around nine carefully selected works that enrich and innovate the pictorial element through a multimedia approach.
The works of Jeanne Gaigher are like books asking to be leafed through. They are made up of two or more layers of fabric or canvas (applied or stitched), adorned with acrylic paints, ink and textile inserts. These composite surfaces, and even the choice of colours, are orchestrated by the artist’s mood. As she puts it: ‘I am guided by whatever happens, by not forcing the painting to be what I want it to be, of not giving in to the expectation of a painting . . . .’
For instance, among the works on display Conditions of the day II (2019) offers us a chromatic key linked to the fact that Jeanne gives precedence to a particular range of colours including rust green, grey and earth brown. The subjects also provide a narrative element since, although the artist’s works appear to tend towards abstraction, they are actually triggered by personal experiences. As a result, the subjects are more or less tangible including, for example, landscapes she has observed (in South Africa and elsewhere) and images of real-life experiences captured and documented simply using the camera of her smartphone. The presence of sequential numbers in the titles of some works, such as The Way through Fish Fountain I (2019) and II (2019), provides another important clue about the artist’s method of working intermittently on several different canvases at once. She draws inspiration from her photographs in the same way as artists in the past drew on their sketches and watercolours.
Marlene Steyn’s approach is decidedly more figurative. She works mostly on canvas, often freed from the classic structural wooden frame, which she paints using oils and acrylics, as well as applying plasticine and various recycled materials including objects and pieces of fabric. The distinctive feature of these works is expressed through the visual language, which is so symbolic that it creates a third, deeper invisible dimension, a dimension that is more psychological and almost dreamlike. As the artist herself puts it. ‘All of my work moves towards the same questions and themes, but I'm very interested in the process we follow to create a sense of self in this contemporary time – especially as a female.’ Marlene reworks familiar objects, generating mysterious motifs through the repetition of elements and unpredictable combinations. In the patterns of the works on display here we find female figures (Couple Face Suit, 2013 and Stroke my palms and flush my knee, 2016), as well as natural landscapes (What the forest metabolise, 2015). Marlene analyses the plurality of human identity filtered through a spiritual and personal lens, seeking to give that identity a meaning to set against the chaos that hallmarks the spirit of our times.
The work of the youngest of these three artists, Kresiah Mukwazhi, reveals a more social reading. The idea is to employ different techniques to explore primarily the role of the female vis-à-vis the rules of the patriarchal society. The artist pays particular attention to social epithets and the popular beliefs and prejudices that constitute an ulterior level in the interpretation of everyday reality. In terms of texture, this could be defined as the most superficial and most blurry layer of human relationships.
At the heart of this investigation are very delicate issues connected with the female condition in Africa, including gender violence and sexual aggression. Kresiah’s critical stance is also partly the result of the artist’s own experience in a night club, which inspired the eccentric colours, motifs and materials often found in her work. These include, for instance, a deep purple colour (Send Me your nudes, 2018), camouflage prints with leopard-skin motifs, fragments of lace, sparkling sequins and so on, elements that in popular iconography are normally associated with prostitution and pornography.
Among the works on display, Mubobobo Shuwa Here (2019) refers to a black magic ritual known as Mubobobo, which was very common in Kresiah’s native village of Mavingo and generally accepted throughout the state of Zimbabwe. It is believed that a man can have a sexual relationship with a woman from a distance and without her consent, symbolically using an object such as an undergarment belonging to his victim. This very item of underwear plays a principal role in works such as Kusexira to seduce (2018) and Maboss Lady Acho Awanda (2018). Through the use of the slender shoulder straps, lace and silk characteristic of female lingerie, Kresiah not only focuses attention once again on the fragility of the female condition in Zimbabwe, but also triggers an active debate based on a provocative resistance to patriarchy: ‘The issue of powerful men who have been accused and exposed for sexual assault coincides with my work in a way that I feel is significant.’