About Marais

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So far Marais has created 15 blog entries.

The Pioneer

Notebook Entry: Key West 2008

It has been said that if one thoughtlessly crosses a river of unknown depths and shallows, he will die in its currents without ever reaching the other side. If one is interested in confronting the unknown one first has to become unattached to life and to death.

I am thinking a lot of my foremothers.

Europeans from 1756 onwards embarked on wooden schooners and sailed violent waters to dark Africa. Some died from disease and  water deaths. The survivors made landfall on a mapless continent where the unknown was best divided into that of monsters and demons. They braved on. Crossing mountains, valleys and savannah facing lion, mamba and the mighty Zulu. Only the lucky survived. They will settle in what seemed to be folds of protection amongst rivers and valleys. Mother Africa made sure she visited each family sooner or later. She breeds her own deadly diseases and came knocking on their doors to deliver her unwelcome package. Through these very dark nights the demons and monsters had a tendency to grow extra heads. Still Mother Africa was giving, like a twisted crow she opened her wings and revealed everything shiny; diamond, gold, copper and iron. The old world woke up to this far off ‘barbaric’ world, wringing their greedy hands together. They showed up with guns and fire. They raped and execute and the weak were thrown into the carcass of concentration camps. The riches were theirs for the taking. Our pioneers became yellow hollowed and defeated. The monster and demons with their multiple heads merged with the darkness to create a concoction of hate and revenge. It seeped into hollow chests and soon our humble brave pioneer became the monster himself.

And we the grandchildren, we are not European, we are not African, we have outgrown the monster and maybe all that is left in us is the pioneer.

By |2017-05-02T13:02:08-04:00May 10th, 2012|

Huffington Post interview on “SHIFT”

The Huffington Post | by 

First Posted: 01/31/2012 4:07 pm Updated: 01/31/2012 4:25 pm

In “Shift,” a wild dog steals the face from a figure born from a tree. It’s a short film collaboration by South Florida artists Juan Carlos Zaldivar and Anja Marais.

After someone working with Miami International Film Festival saw a working cut of the film, the filmmakers were invited to enter MIFF’s short film competition.

But in order to complete the film, the artists need more funding so they turned to micro-funding site IndieGogo.

HuffPost Miami spoke with Marais, who hand-sewed all the film’s characters and animals out of paper.

What was the inspiration behind Shift?
I’m originally from South Africa and Zaldivar is originally from Cuba, so we draw extensively from our experiences as immigrants. I’m concerned with “the perpetual outlander” always reaching for the unreachable.

Zaldivar’s work is often informed by our relationships with our bodies and by the transmutations and transcendences of the physical. Together, we have crafted a highly original, visual symphony that uses beautiful time-lapse photography and relies completely in film language to weave a haunting tale of loss and redemption.

How did you come up with the narrative?
Nature is important to both of us and became the main conductor for inspiration and visuals for the story. Zaldivar’s narrative was led by transformations in nature, and my narrative was led by the interstice and liminal spaces of nature.

How did you and Juan work together on the film?
Zaldivar has an extensive film background and I’m a sculptor from the Visual Arts genre. We both came together with very different approaches.

We both wrote the script, we both were models for the filming, and we both share in the labor around making stop animation.

Individually Zaldivar brought his knowledge and the filmmakers eye to provide the film with structure and flow while I provided sculptures and artwork to capture the emotions of the characters.

How does this film fit in with the rest of your work?
Before becoming a professional director, Zaldivar started his film career as a sound editor and designer, his work can be heard in Academy nominated films such as Ang Lee’s “Sense and Sensibility”, in Nanette Burstein and Bret Morgan’s “On the ropes” and on HBO’s America Undercover, for which he garnered an Emmy nomination.

For me, this short film breathed life into my sculptures. I hand sewed paper together to form three-dimensional figures to emphasize their fragility. This became part of interdisciplinary projects consisting out of sculpture, photography, installations and now film. These projects are an ongoing documentation that the journey and foreigner exists in all of us.

I have been taught firsthand by Japanese master papermakers on how to make and work with paper. You can see in the film “Shift” that all the characters are hand sewn out of paper.

Where was this filmed?
“Shift” was filmed outdoors in the Florida Keys. We found hidden, almost untouched areas on the Atlantic coastline, between mangroves and seaweed we managed to give nature an important role in our film.

You can read the full article at:


By |2017-07-11T00:09:17-04:00February 6th, 2012|

The Solitude and Solidarity of an artist.

Notebook Entry: 2011 Key West

It all started with Prometheus.

He stole fire from the Gods and gave it to humankind to further their growth as a society. Zeus becomes furious, punishes Prometheus. He ties him to Mount Caucasus where a vulture will come each morning to eat away his liver. Overnight, his liver will grow back again. A symbol of the creative process.

This is my final note for 2011. A year of hiatus and redefining. A year of introspection and search. A year of cerebral mountains and pitfalls and also of growing back my liver. The art world is a complicated mesh of possibilities and probabilities and it is essential for an artist to once in awhile step off the speeding train and revisit his road map and ask himself tough questions. I gnawed and digested like an omnivorous beast through books and knocked on the door of every image and artist that I ever cared for.

Then came the dream…I am a small house.

The little house that was me was built inside a bigger house; this house was artist Enrique Martinez Celaya. His house was built inside yet another house. This house was painter Leon Golub. Golub’s house was standing inside a house which was the Greek sculptors. And so a house exists within a house, and so it continues.

The following night I had the same dream. This time I was standing in front of a big building with a single door. This building had a nameplate that said “Donatello“. Upon entering through the door a second building stood inside with the nameplate “Michelangelo“. Through the door of the second building stood a third building with the nameplate “Auguste Rodin“. Like a Russian doll it opened up to the smallest of building in its nucleus, which is me.

The composer Schumann believed that his musical compositions were dictated by Beethoven, and Auguste Rodin said that his work was quotations of Michelangelo’s.

After these dreams I spent a lot of time locked away, my only company that of the giants before me. I studied their choices, their decisions and their problem solving. My road map was transforming…

And for the upcoming new year I can only repeat the words of James Joyce:
“Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”

By |2017-07-12T13:04:37-04:00December 19th, 2011|

The man on the top of the mountain

Notebook Entry: Miami 2010

We all at some point desire to seek out the wise man that is sitting on top of the mountain listening to our burning questions. Lets say I have found such a man. I would brace the acid cold and climb over steep plateaus to reach him.

Here is Giovanni Segantini (1858 – 1899) on what is art:

“Art should lead us up to that spiritual sustenance which is as yet unknown to the mass of mankind, and which will constitute at once the delight and the torment of future generations. Art without an ideal is but nature without life. . . there are two ways to see art, that may serve as a starting point, although they are entirely opposed to each other. First that truth which is outside ourselves is not art, it has not and cannot have any value as art ; it is but a blind imitation of nature, and could not be anything else ; hence it is a purely material representation. Matter should be elaborated by mind if it is to rise to the form of art which endures.

The second is that the lasting value to a work of art is the blind imitation of nature : All that the painter has added of his own, the so-called personal interpretation, the arbitrary variations, and the comments on nature, die ; while what he has reproduced sincerely and truthfully, exactly as he saw it in nature, lives for ever, and the furthest ages will joyfully welcome it as a work of art, as a good old friend, as never-changing nature.

It is indeed true that an ideal which is outside nature cannot last, but a reality without ideals is realism without life. Those works of art in which the artist has ‘reproduced’ the soul in the living and perceptible form, not the artist’s own soul, but that of his subject, of him or of her whom he was reproducing. This form of art, although impersonal, is nevertheless highly spiritual, and not a mere material reproduction : matter was but a means to the end. We almost invariably find this form of art in portraits painted by the great masters of all ages, and it is here that they have attained their greatest power, a portrait being a work which combines the highest simplicity of means with the greatest effectiveness in the art of expressing the living and perceptible form.Thus a work of art can only be expressed in a living form, either by expressing the personal feeling of him who created it, or the living sense of nature. . . .Tell me what else is art, beautiful, true, noble art, but the photographic image, the measure that marks the degrees of the perfection of the human soul ?

It is not merely by means of the beauty of nature in the abstract that we can create a work of art. This creation is possible only through an impulse of the spirit or human soul. When we feel the idea of art quickening within us, and we give to it all our faculties until it be ripe, it will be as if a flame suddenly warmed and illumined our soul : the power of this flame is irresistible, and the work of art is born and full of vitality this we deduce that beauty exists in nature because we see it and feel it, and the manner and measure of our feeling are in proportion to our spiritual capabilities. Thus a work of art being an interpretation of nature, the more spiritual elements it contains and reproduces with sentiment and dignity of form, the further is it removed from the perception of the common herd. It cannot be appreciated save by those who by means of long and patient study have succeeded in raising their spirit to the perception and assimilation of those spiritual elements.

These two definitions of art has led to the following results. When the artist wished to render universal an idea of his own, he had to take into account the intelligence of the masses, and consequently adapt himself to the tastes of others, that is to say, to the taste of his day. An universal feeling or an idea of one’s own by means of an artistic presentation, or to reproduce artistically a universal feeling or idea, by which the artist’s soul was impressed.’If, on the other hand, the artist was impressed by an idea or a feeling that was universal, and he wished to consolidate it in an artistic form, he could neither follow the free impulse of his genius, nor see the idea which had inspired his work sublime and glittering in its own full brilliancy. Freedom of form and of personal sentiment disappear, the ideal impulse of the artist having been quenched,corrected, and adapted to ideas determined by others..In art it is absolutely necessary to blend realism with idealism.

Art should reveal sensations that are new to the spirit of the initiated : the art which leaves the spectator indifferent has no reason to exist. The suggestiveness of a work of art is in proportion to the intensity with which it was felt by the artist in conceiving it, and this is in proportion to the refinement, the purity, as we may call it, of his feelings. In this way the lightest and most fleeting impressions are rendered more intense and become fixed in the brain, moving the higher spirit that synthetises them, and making it fruitful ; hence comes that elaboration which translates the artistic ideal into a living form. To preserve this ideal vision while executing his work, the artist must summon up all his powers, so that the initial energy may continue active; it is a vibration of his nerves which are intent on feeding the flame, on keeping alive the vision by constantly recalling it, lest the idea should dissolve or fade, that idea which should become alive on the canvas, creating the work that will be spiritually personal and materially true. Not true in the external, superficial, conventional sense, which is the stamp of common art, but true in the sense of that truth, which goes beyond the barriers of superficial lines and tones, and gives life to form and light and colour.

This, then, is realism. It enters into the soul and becomes part of the idea. The brush sweeps across the canvas and obeys ; it shows the quivering of the fingers in which all the nervous vibrations are concentrated ; the different objects, the beasts, the birds, the human beings are born, and take shape, light, and life in all their smallest details. The flame of art is in the artist, and by means of the tension of his soul it maintains in him the emotion which he communicates to his work. Through this emotion the mechanical, toilsome effort of the artist disappears, and the complete work of art is created, all of one piece, living, perceptible ; it is the incarnation of the spirit in matter, it is a creation. Thus by creating a work of art we render our own soul more noble and perfect, and sometimes that of others as well.

From: *Luigi Villari, Giovanni Segantini. London, T.Fisher Unwin, 1901, pp105-119. All images details from Segantini’s paintings.
By |2017-07-12T13:04:37-04:00August 22nd, 2011|

Friendship with a dead sculptor…(ii)

We were walking along the edge of the ocean’s foam apron, water chasing our bare feet. Seaweed piled up in little pyramids on the sand, oozing sulfurous vapor that bit into the fresh air. With his big hands this hirsute man spoke as he gestured towards the skyline, saying that it is here in nature that he finds his savage muse.

In sculpture if you become too academic in poses and style, you are making an absentee of nature and thus life becomes absent from your work. We must unfreeze sculpture, life is the thing, everything is in it, and life is movement.

You should be at the order of Nature. A sculptor should take from life the movements that he observes but he should not impose them. Obey nature and do not command her and know that there is no recipe to improve nature, for it will become a lie. The secret is to ‘see’ her and not to just look at her.

The wind picked up and carried his words away but did not hinder his monologue.

What we commonly call ‘ugliness’ in nature can become full of great beauty in art. For the great artist everything in nature has character and that which has character is beautiful. That which is considered ‘ugly’ in nature in fact has more character for its inner truth shines through more so than that which we consider ‘beautiful’ in nature. Capturing this power of character in art makes the sculpture strong with value. There is nothing ugly in art except that which is without character, that lacks inner truth. That is why Baudelaire could make the festering corpse about love, why Velasquez could render the dwarf so touching.

As we stood under the shade of the palm trees he looked up and said that he is the confidant of these trees and this ocean;  they talk to him like old friends. But his eyes now caressed the golden bodies of the sunbathers embedded in the sand; their limbs oiled and stretched to harvest every single ray of light.

Do you see their living detail?

Somehow through the years I have stopped paying attention to the loud tourist but with new eyes I scanned their bodies. The surface of their skin’s slight projections and depressions, the body itself a multitude of almost imperceptible roughness. Every body curved into an attitude, a story.


*Grunfeld V. Frederic, “Rodin. A Biography” Henry Holt. 1987.
*Rodin, A “Rodin on Art and Artists” Dover Publications. 1983.
By |2017-07-12T13:05:39-04:00June 8th, 2011|