The show is bound together by a group of artists tugging towards the human form. As much as the exhibition is about the portrayal of humanity, it is also about the artists’ personal journey within the self.
Each artists’ uniqueness of vision is fused with their passion for their chosen material. At times, manipulation of material describes the artists’ relationships with the human form as much as the chosen subject.
On the show are printmakers, painters and sculptors from all over the country. Included are, Christiaan Diedericks, Ledelle Moe, Vulindlela Nyoni, Niel Jonker, Grace Kotze, Peter Rippon, Elizabeth Balcomb, Sarah Lovejoy and Sandra Hanekom.
Homosapien promises to be a show of great substance due to the individual’s relentless investigation into the captivating subject of the human form. Curated by Grace Kotze, the exhibition is housed in the KZNSA Gallery and runs from 13 August to 1 September 2013.
Through painting portraits, I am paying homage to the subject and also serving my own personal growth, of reassessing my own bearings. The human form and emotional/intellectual self, provides me with unending curiosity and wonder. Every new subject opens doors through which I attempt to gain new insights. The individual’s postures, expressions and forms are specific to their makeup. Thus making it impossible to tire of the examining and deciphering of the correlation between the subjects physical and internal self.
“The portrait” is a means of gaining personal clarity, even if it is the unravelling’s of the next clue to which a greater understanding of the human nature may be gathered. Gaining insights into others, leads to my own personal understanding of the self.
I often hang images of my physical surrounds next to those of the human form. This is an expansion of “the portrait” although the environmental paintings do not include that of the human form. One’s environment is genre that is as much about one’s self as human anatomy. We constantly examine and reassess our own perceptions through our environments. Thus painting these external forms new barriers start loosening that lead to greater understanding of the self. - Grace Kotze, Artist Statement
"In my work, time and space appear to dissolve, and an air of conflict erupts. This is often a direct result of a personal aim to calm and disturb at the same time - drawing parallels between the two extremes of utopia and dystopia. There is always a secondary narrative in my work. The primary narrative has symbolic authority and aesthetic promise, although the mysterious secondary narrative exists in order to provoke thought in the viewer.
In many ways I aim to ‘rewrite’ history in my work and the dominant sense of self-awareness that informs most Western art practices. I am trying to present contemporary issues such as Difference as timeless, by situating my vocabulary of images and themes in an organic flux of dreams, history, news, commercial detritus, hyper-reality, and unvoiced feelings and forces of biological nature/desire." - Christiaan Diedericks, Artist Statement
For Homosapien Niel Jonker presents a selection of bronzes as well as a couple of earth-case sculptures and one missed media.
This series of heads evoke the spirit of burials and embalmed pasts. The earth aggregate was salvaged from rural ruins of a farm homestead where the artist felt a strong sense of regard for the implied memories contained in the walls of a home that held years of family life. Half the head is the sleeping portrait of a rural youngster living on a farm near the artist’s home, the other half an expression of the dream of what rests beneath the surface of the subject’s visible life.
The Fiendish Beauty of Flesh
“A human soul that God created and Christ has died for, is not to be trifled with. It may tenant the body of a Chinaman, a Turk, an Arab or a Hottentot – it is still an immortal soul” – PT Barnum
The series of paintings for the “Homosapien” exhibition was born from my continuous interest in genetics and the frailty of flesh. Having inherited a genetic “disease” myself (Charcot-Marie-Tooth), I was confronted by society’s need to “normalise” (cure) me from an early age.
The fact is that I do not find the physically abnormal, “abnormal” at all. If teratology (the study of physical abnormalities) teaches us anything, it is that genes have an agenda of its own. Diseases and abnormalities are merely the products of Darwinism. Nature does not follow conventional human ideas regarding fleshly aesthetics. Nature is frivolous.
The last century has seen a marked change regarding the way in which seemingly civilised societies view the abnormal. With puritanical and austere rigorousness we have corrected how we communicate about the abnormal, i.e.: we cleaned up our language. The “abnormal” has become the “challenged”. The world no longer gawks at the curious, the odd, the exotic – or god forbid, the freaky. We directly avert our eyes from the “unfortunate” individuals who do adhere to our simplified and sanitised version of normal. Even worse while garbling politically correct jargon, we attempt to “normalise” the “challenged” through either medical “intervention” or an obstinate denial that the “different” exists at all. We gaze – only to cure – never to see.
The Victorian and Edwardian world viewed the world of the physically abnormal differently. The freak show provided the public ample opportunity to interact with the “wonders of nature” or to witness “a living miracle”. Today “disability activists” refer to the freak shows as “the pornography of disability”. I find this a rather smug and short-sighted view of a different era.
Contrary to common knowledge, most freak shows provided not only a financially lucrative business opportunity to people with physical disabilities, but also a position within an artistic community that completely embraced their physical abnormalities. Instead of being mere unfortunates, the carnival “performers” of the 19th century and early 20th century, were admired and even loved for their physical misfortunes.
In a strange contrast with standard Victorian mores, female “freaks” in particular, through their presence on the stage achieved a level of financial independence unknown to most women of their age. The fact remains that by indulging cultural and social violations by allowing the public to leer at their bodies, these remarkable people succeeded in shaping a place within the world for themselves; a world that adhere to the norms of the abnormal.
Chang and Eng Bunker, the original “Siamese Twins”, retired rich and famous to a plantation in North Carolina, where they not only owned slaves, but married two sisters and sired 21 children. General Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton) and his diminutive wife, Lavinia Warren, when not wowing admirers like Queen Victoria and President Roosevelt, loved entertaining friends in their Manhattan apartment or on their yacht.
Though the initiatives of the pious and concerned the popularity of the freak shows began to wane after the third decade of the 20th century throughout the world. In a morbid twist of irony, Germany in 1937 outlawed freak shows as being exploitive. The “sanitisation” of the undesirable, of course, being more humane than leering at the undesirable.
Today we still sanitise, through isolation and institutionalisation. We have exorcised our desire and attraction to the exotic so effectively, as to resort to turning ourselves into self-made oddities. Body-art has replaced “living miracles” and the “wonders of nature”.
So let us remember:
Julia Pastranna (Baboon Lady), Mary Ann Bevan (The World’s Homeliest Woman), Joseph Merricle (The Elephant Man), Martin Laurello (The Human Owl), Wang (The Human Unicorn), Eddie Masher (Skeleton Man), Ella Harper (Camel Girl), Felix Wehrie (Elastic Man), Stephan Bibrowsky (Lionel the Lion Faced Boy), Krao Farini (The Missing Link), Francis Flynn (General Mite), Alzora Lewis (Turtle Girl), Myrtle Corbin (The Four Legged Woman), Jack Earle (The Texas Giant), Lucia Zarate (The Puppet-Woman), Josephine Joseph (The Half-Woman Half-Man), Simon Metz (Schlitzie the Pinhead), Prince Randian (The Human Caterpillar), Grace McDaniels (The Mule-faced Woman) and Fedor Jeftichew (Jo-Jo, the Dog Faced Boy) and all other living miracles.
I hope that this collection of artworks inspire art patrons and the public to once again “see” and realise that beauty and humanity lies in the heart and the eye of the beholder. - Sandra Hanekom, August 2013