Business Daily, Art Review, 2005/08/15 12:00:00 AM
by Ashley Johnson
THERE is a dearth of issue-driven art in SA at the moment as we emerge from the post-apartheid haze. Yet the transfer of power has not led to greater enlightenment in some areas of social and environmental relations. ANSISTERS is a creative initiative of FACE (Fe(male) Activation through Creative Empowerment), and raises important societal questions.
The power structures in our society are still very patriarchal and exclusive, but also committed to an outmoded understanding of reality. Thus the environment is viewed as exploitable terrain and it is not understood that one cannot calculate the profit margin without including the cost of repairing environmental damage. Thus a more holistic concept would identify the self with environment in such a way that identities merge and mutual respect is accorded to all organisms. At root, all aspects of biological experience are interdependent and the earth breathes.
Ansisters engages with this dialogue, which has Gaia, the Earth Goddess and symbol of regeneration at its heart. In many senses, orthodox religion and the Bible act to restrain the pagan thrust to earth renewal, becoming policemen to reinforce the male dominated status quo. Yet society as a whole will acknowledge that we have entered a period of environmental crises that demands new thinking.
In this context many of the artworks ask for viewer participation like Anni Snyman’s Listening Womb, where the viewer enters a veiled canopy and records white noise over taped sound, attempting to evoke ethereal responses from another world.
Cheryl Gage, Ilse Venter and Erica Lüttich engage with earth-based subject matter like trees and seed pods through installations, video and photography. A process is at work that attempts a cross-pollination of ideas and activities. Thus there is merry chaos in the display and artists colonise each other’s spaces at will. On the opening night street performers dressed in black acted out scenarios before the artworks, adding to the confusion.
There is a strong feminist undercurrent to the display although this is not of the histrionic type and in the main eulogises the role played by women, which generally passes unacknowledged. Many artworks evoked reminiscences of grandmothers whose life circumstances left them indomitable and although silent not forgotten.
Two pieces by male artists, Chris Diedericks and Kevin Collins, dealt quite poignantly with this aspect while Recipes For Life by Roela Hattingh consisted of a surprising array of bowls made from food together with a book of handwritten recipes passed down by ancestors and photographs of these people.
This exhibition also features the beautiful Keiskamma Altarpiece that highlights AIDS with the role grandmothers play in society, but the exclusive focus on femininity is disturbing.
It is not commonly known but all foetuses begin life as female and it is only after a series of male hormone onslaughts to overcome the presiding female hormones that the boy is formed.
Thus perhaps the battle between male and female has a biological basis but we cohabit this planet and any thinking that does not acknowledge the male principle is flawed.
Various activities take place throughout the month at the Old Fort and this visual display is an engrossing part of proceedings. It should be on view until August 19 and works are for sale.
The Old Fort, Constitution Hill, 1 Kotze Street, Braamfontein, Johannesburg; Tel: (011) 486-4777 Ashley Johnson Business Day.
Posted 08 November 2005, www.face.org.za, author: Ashley Johnson.