Strand of the Ancestral [catalog]

ELEVEN VOICES was a group exhibition of South African and African Diaspora Artists presented by the Deering Estate in Miami curated by Kim Yantis of the Deering Estate and Rosie Gordon-Wallace of the Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator.

Artists include:
Nicholas Hlobo
Anton Kannemeyer
Anja Marais
Judith Mason
Claudette Schreuders
Rowan Smith etc.

The full catalog of the exhibition is available now online.:


From the Catalog:


by Anja Marais

In 1994 as an art student, I stood in front of a painting and it left a crack in my young mind where the light started to seep in. The Pretoria Museum of Art was particularly quiet that day and I found myself alone in a room with a work by Judith Mason. A quiet escape from external harshness.

It was a lush painting. Each brush stroke spread like warm chocolate over the canvas building sediment that formed a topography reminiscent of Africa’s many valleys and plateaus. I got lost in this landscape of paint which shaped the body of a Wild Dog bitch. The Wild Dog was a mother with heavy teats, filled with milk. Her pups are not in the picture but her teats were suckled raw and red. She was standing alone in an alerted pose during the hour of twilight – the most dangerous time to leave your pups alone while hunting. She looked strong and vulnerable at the same time.

I have never met Judith Mason but I was one of many artists in South Africa that suckled inspiration from her protean body of work. In my mind, she was Africa’s Mother of Contemporary Art. She spoke up as a female, an artist, a white, a role model, against the misguidance in our society without ever being pedantic or condescending.

“The Wild Dog” painting is one of my favorite works by Mason. It is a metaphor for being an artist. It speaks of the strength and power of servitude. Artists provide nutrition to souls that are hungry and in need, even as the artists themselves are solitary figures that are ambulant in both the light and the shadow of their own psyche. Being always alert while understanding that their vocation comes with a responsibility to the earth and future generations.


In Eleven Voices I had the opportunity to exhibit alongside South African artists but it was profound for me to have Judith Mason in the exhibition. Her work and her history have become a cyclical thread in my own journey as an artist. She taught me to have a voice as a young art student and to have our voices brought together became a poetic confirmation of my art practice.

In the exhibition, my work “Unforeseen Snow” is a video installation that speaks of utopian pockets amidst the charged politics of South Africa. How love can exist untainted in the darkest of hours. The video is from 8mm film footage of my Mother and Father in love and wooing in the early sixties.  The installation also includes found objects like suitcases, bones, and books that refer to history. Ancestral history of genes, ideas, travels, knowledge, and wisdom. If tomorrow is ambiguous but we are sure of our past, can we carry that with us to make our future clear?  Or is it better to forget our past indiscretions?

I further speak about ancestry and their footsteps in the series “Sole Journey”. In this series of six, the bottom of the inner sole of used shoes is pulled out and displayed. It reveals the hidden pressure, weight, imprints, and stains of the wearer during their journey. What would I have done in my Mother’s and Father’s shoes? An easy question to ask oneself out of context but hard to maneuver in the enclosure of relevant time.

One of my motivations as an artist is aiming to take responsibility for my own history to be the generation that can follow in the shoes of progenitors like Judith Mason and to continue questioning the cycles of cultural inheritance and leave sustenance for artists and generations to come.

Unforeseen Snow, 2016, Video installation and found objects, 51in x 26in x 30in

Unforeseen Snow, 2016, Video installation and found objects, 51in x 26in x 30in


By |2018-04-05T10:59:37-04:00January 19th, 2018|

Press from ABMB week 2017

WHITEHOT MAGAZINE: Re-Mixing History: African Women Artists at Art Basel Miami Beach 2017

ARCADE PROJECT ZINE:  The Moment We’re In: Art Basel Miami 2017 Begins

“Far downtown in a former post office, visual artist Anja Marais’s installation Out of Sight; Out of Mind taps into the zeitgeist with large paste-up portraits of immigrants that play with dual perspectives, twisting sight to examine peripheral views of human history. Her images are pasted into corners and archways in the gutted downtown building, creating warped faces that recall distorted views of immigration and its role in history. Marais photographed Miami Haitians who are the children of immigrants. They sat for her portraits and posed as their immigrant ancestors, each holding a tool of their trade.”

Anja Marais immigrant installation

Anja Marais immigrant installation

Anja Marais immigrant installation

By |2018-01-02T12:56:11-04:00January 2nd, 2018|

SFCC exhibition [press clipping]

If you’re interested in the art of here & now, you need to see this show

Yet there are several pieces without much color at all that also fit, thematically, into the artistic landscape of South Florida.

One is a haunting, site-specific installation, hung from the ceiling, from South-African born Anja Marais. As an immigrant herself, as so many are here, she creates pieces that relate to disenfranchised, disconnected communities. In the suspended ripped and torn panels, in black and white, you can discern a poor small farmhouse and fields. Unlike the collage from Mar which hangs behind it, Marais has created this work not by layering and applying, but by a process called décollage, where she manipulates the initial images by tearing and cutting it, also forming a new, unique perspective by elimination.

Inextricable Intertangling, 2017 Mixed media on found fabrics and wooden scaffolding 10 feet x 15 feet x 8 feet

By |2017-07-13T08:53:33-04:00July 11th, 2017|

The Codex of the Films and Pictures of Anja Marais: Oneiric Metaphors – by Rosa JH Berland [write-up]

The disquieting allure of Anja Marais’ practice comes from a masterly weaving of mysticism. Formally, the work falls somewhere between the grace of Jean-Eugène-Auguste Atget, the shadowy poetry of Surrealist film making, the complex ornateness of Matthew Barney’s films and feminist body art. These intricate worlds are made from handmade sculpture, video, pixilation animation video, and photography. They captivate, one can hardly wait for the next scene or chapter to emerge.

Most recently, Marais has embarked on a series of self-titled “visual poems” including a sequence of related projects comprised of moving picture, photography, costumes, hand made sculpture and mixed media. These “poems” take place in natural environments such forests, hills, expanses of grass, or next to a body of water and appear to transcribe memory and experience, particularly that of woman. The stories are often-wordless visual worlds in which secrets are ritually revealed, the passage of time is shown as wrinkles in a cloth across a woman’s face, the waves in water, or a cocoon like emergence. The protagonists are feminine, in some cases hybrid mythological creatures, veiled or similarly disguised, on occasion grotesque, serving as metaphors for the feminine experience. Marais’ layered work is made up of a truly tactile world of gothic mystery, mirroring the cycle of life using a codex of hybrid creatures, symbology of the natural and religious world, all equally captivating and mysterious.

In all of her work, the viewer is overwhelmed by a sense of shamanism; the women in these series seem to immerse themselves in their own corporeality. Through the depiction of ritual and the association of woman with nature, and the natural world, Marais implies that what is considered abject by our culture, the often-messy cycle of life, birth, death, etc. is in fact, an intrinsically connected part of life, a source of introspection and power, and as such is a rite of passage.

To this end, in the films, and the two dimensional works such as the mixed media works Cathedral Series (2014) Marais poetically and unflinching depicts allegories for life cycles including birth, death and loss as processes or stories, memorialized as ritual and as ephemera, fluid, and cyclical. Water reappears repeatedly, a natural element, and a site for corporeal events. There is a preternatural sense of memory, experience and living, at the same time there is a palpable sense of disintegration and aging, a flux. This sense of memory and disintegration is seen in the fluid film Cathedral (2013), a story of a woman on a journey. This traveller is a veiled woman in somber dress; the stop animation makes the young actor’s gait that of elderly woman, and serves as a parable for the cycle of life. The elusive woman travels through a stark wintery wood to a river, where she finds a bed, and lingers with her fingers in the pulsating water, a metaphor for sexuality. Inspired by the poem by Anna Akmatova, Lying Within Me, Marais’ heroine is going in search of stones, each like a hard impenetrable egg, and scoops them up into her dress, digging in the dirt, and burying them in a ritual manner. This white secret, is hidden, and buried, veiled in some way. Time lapses, like waves on water, and it only at the end that we see a shadow of the woman’s face. Her story is accompanied by a soundtrack of suspenseful music and the sounds of nature, singing birds and whispering wind.

In this film, and her practice is general, Marais forces a collision between the motifs of the monstrous feminine from various genre including horror and body art within her own narrative of the feminine life cycle set outside the confines of homogenous society; this is not a spectacle of the pornographically abject, but rather a poetic recording of experience, mnemonic storytelling and an engagement in the cyclical nature of the feminine experience. Intrinsically, Marais approaches the way in which the depiction of the feminine as abject is part of a social order by having her actors act out and fully immerse themselves in an almost celebratory series of ritual, often including blood and other bodily fluids. Watching these abstracted rituals is one way Marais forces the viewer to confront his or her ideas of place, identity and life. To this effect, still images, from the Cathedral project are carefully worked to create a haptic effect. They serve as reliquaries for events, for example, in the mixed media work Transparency of Rocks (2014) a child’s face is covered in rocks, an allegory for the buried egg or child in the film Cathedral (2012), a loss that becomes an artifact, aging, held tightly, the pigment cracked, scraped and peeling, as if slowly dying. Labor of Burden (2014) shows the white hands of the veiled woman from the film Cathedral burying the dead, inanimate rocks. Because Marais’ mode of working is so enigmatically abstract, one could read this burial as a metaphor for a number of things, memories of past infractions, loss of a dream or lover, child, the stillborn child or another dark secret, the white stone of Akmatova’s poem, the secret that lies within the veiled woman.

This suggestively unknowable allegorical mood is precisely what makes Marais’ work so evocative and captivating, there is openness and permeability and yet at the same time, a fineness of craftsmanship and image that as a whole is aesthetically remarkable.


Rosa JH Berland, M.A., University of Toronto, is an art historian based in New York City. She has held positions at MoMA, & the Guggenheim Museum & is currently writing a monographic book on allegory in the work of the late American painter Edward Boccia. As well, she has contributed to numerous scholarly books, exhibit & collection catalogues, and academic journals. Ms. Berland’s research interests include expressionism, mysticism, and the ocular in modern art.

By |2017-07-13T09:28:11-04:00May 2nd, 2017|

Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami write-ups for “Intersectionality”

Anja Marais Art Anja Marais Art

“On Their Shoulders” 2016, Photomontage Mixed Media and Found Objects. 72 in x 48 in x 28 in

My  work got mentioned in the press for the “Intersectionality” exhibition curated by Richard Haden:

By Phillip Valys from

….The piece calls to mind old-world colonialism and immigration, which is echoed in Anja Marais’ installation “The Crossing,” where nine pairs of adult and children’s dress shoes filled with dirt sit next to an out-of-focus photograph of a muddy cornfield.

Although Marais emigrated from South Africa during apartheid, the shoes evoke the current Syrian refugee crisis, Haden says.

“When migrants are being forced out of their country to escape oppression, they have to pack your belongings hastily. You leave with the shoes on your feet,” Haden says. “It’s a dehumanizing process, these journeys from one world to another.”

Read full article [HERE].

By Anne Tschida for Miami Herald

Two installations leave a searing impression. One is a large photograph of a fallow field; in front of it are shoes — some of them lovely dress shoes — filled with dirt. Artist Anja Marais, an immigrant from South Africa, created the work in reference to the plight of Syrian refugees, who have fled with the shoes they wore on whatever day they ran, tripping through muddy fields in high heels. Adjacent is a sculpture of tattered furniture bundled together, left behind as the journey became more treacherous. Migrants are in a perpetual process of losing and reforming identities.

Read full article [HERE].
The exhibition is open until August 14th 2016


By |2017-07-11T00:09:17-04:00August 5th, 2016|

CURRENT: Florida Prize in Contemporary Art Exhibition • ORLANDO MUSEUM OF ART • MAY 31st – AUG 18th, 2019