22 March - 28 April 2007
‘When you’re standing at the crossroads that you cannot comprehend
Just remember that death is not the end’
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Death is Not the End, 1996 (words and music by Bob Dylan, 1988)
Michael Stevenson presents Afterlife, an exhibition curated by Sophie Perryer that explores the nebulous zones where the material and spiritual realms intersect, and where the past and future reveal themselves in the present moment. The works on show approach the subject from different angles, tangentially at times, in media that include painting, video, photography, sculpture, printmaking, sound and installation.
Transformation is a theme that recurs in different guises. It takes place before our eyes in Ângela Ferreira's video A Woman like Polley, in which the artist inhabits the persona of the founder of the Cape Town Film Festival. She credits him with profoundly influencing her cultural consciousness through the screening of films. In her tribute, Ferreira turns herself into the older man by showing, in stages, the lengthening and whitening of her hair, a physical transformation that mirrors both that of her own consciousness and the course of Polley's life.
Communication with the spirits, rebirth and past lives are all present in the works on exhibition. Samson Mudzunga performs his own burial and rebirth in a symbolic act of regeneration and self-transformation. James Webb's Autohagiography invokes the voices of his past selves, retrieved from his subconscious mind during hypnotherapy. In Vigil, Minnette Vári conjures up a host of characters, real and imagined, from across the historical and geographical breadth of southern Africa, and envisions them consorting together. The ape-women who appear in Vigil resemble the 'wild people' whose stories Penny Siopis draws on in her series, Feral Fables. Existing on the margins of society, these characters evoke a state of liminality, and Siopis finds material form for this slippage between the physical and the ethereal. In Moshekwa Langa's portrait paintings awareness of mortality hovers ever-present at the edges of our consciousness.
Transition comes to the fore in Zineb Sedira's poetic video projection, Saphir. Set in the port of Algiers, the film is a meditation on arrivals and departures, movement and stasis, past and present, home and away. Its two protagonists traverse, respectively, the city and an old colonial-style hotel, stopping to gaze out at the sea which separates and connects Algeria to France; despite their restlessness they appear trapped in limbo.
Nandipha Mntambo also finds traces of the colonial past in the present. Her extraordinary Iqaba lami is a representation of a Herero dress made from hide including cows' faces. Its simultaneously beautiful and tragic form evokes the genocide of the Herero people at the same time as it embodies their creative powers of regeneration.
Claudette Schreuders' Public Figure references the practice of memorialising people through public sculpture. The figure of a woman becomes a perch for birds, suggesting she is doubly removed from herself - the sculpture of a statue - and hinting at the divide between public and private personas. Wim Botha's Rorschach (After Velázquez) translates a 17th-century Spanish painting into a mirrored linoprint depicting Mars, God of War, subjected to the forces of destruction. Both Schreuders' work, which borrows its pose from a Greek kouros statue, and Botha's, exemplify the power of artworks to outlive their creators, giving rise to new interpretations by subsequent generations. They, like the other works on exhibition, make us aware that the afterlife is to be found all around us.
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