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|

Exploring balance – UNC Mirror

Anja Marais: Exploring balance
Southern Florida artist’s work displayed in Northern Colorado gallery
By Trevor Reid
On October 4, 2015

Mark Harro | The Mirror
“The Ballast” installation, a project that uses different pieces to encompass the story of a woman’s struggle to find balance.

When thinking of mythology, most people picture ancient writers. Anja Marais, a South African artist now featured at the Mariani Gallery in Guggenheim Hall, is breaking that stereotype.

Building a mythos through her exhibit “The Ballast,” Marais constructs a tale of the human struggle to find balance. Using photographs from her short film “Cathedral,” Marais ties together the works in her exhibit to present various aspects of this myth to viewers.

The story of a woman struggling to find both stability on the waters of time and freedom from the rocks of her past, “The Ballast” invites viewers to explore this constant struggle faced by humanity.

Q: What inspired this exhibit?

A: My life. (Marais laughs) The title of this exhibit is called “The Ballast” and when I worked on this project, I was thinking about how I will maintain my own balance in life. And when I work in my studio, I don’t just make one painting. I usually work on a whole project.So the whole project is based on questions I have about my life because I found the more personal my work becomes, the more universal it is as well. The ballast is when you have a ship, and you want to keep it buoyant – when it’s empty, you have to fill up the new cargo ships of the day with water and it keeps its equilibrium with the water level. Whereas the old school, they fill it up with rocks. And that way, it stays steady. So as they try to stay steady, they have to empty out rocks or put in more rocks, or take out water or add more water.

As I made this project, I started asking the question, “How do you stay in balance? And when do you know when to empty yourself? And when is it time to fill yourself to stay stable?” This is my way of working through those questions. I also believe the reason why I make art is not necessarily the interpretation I feel people should have for the work. I want them to come with their own ideas and read their own thing in it.

Q: I noticed a similarity in all of the works. Did you start on one of these pieces and expand it into the exhibit?

A: I started with the film, which is called a pixilation animation. That’s when you do a stop-animation without dolls, so you use live humans and an actual environment. For this film, which is about seven minutes, I took between 8,000 and 9,000 photographs. And then I time-lapsed it, and then you have a stop animation. So I have 8,000 to 9,000 photographs that I then recycled back into photographic mixed media collages, and then you have this coherency about it so the works have a similar dialogue towards each other.

Q: How long have you been creating art?

A: Since I could think. Since I could remember, I was making art, and I always wanted to be an artist. My poor dad, who was a science and biology teacher, tried everything in his power for me not to become an artist, but I was adamant.

He always said, “No, it’s something you can do as a hobby.” But that’s all I wanted to be and here I am, I’m still doing it, and it’s the only thing I ever want to do.

Q: Is there a piece in this exhibit that you enjoyed making most?

A: Because it’s one project, and because I make all the work roughly at the same time, there’s a thread that goes through all of them and I enjoy the thread that goes in all of them, not necessarily a specific work. It’s like a little family. So it’s like saying, “The nephew is nicer than the cousin, but they all have the same genes.”

Q: Who are your top three inspirations when creating art?

A: I’m weird in the sense that I’m not as influenced by other artists as I’m influenced by writers. I have a deep love for Russian writers and poets. One of my favorite poets is Anna Akhmatova. And writers like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. I have this thing going on for Russia, and I am so enamored with Andrei Tarkovsky–he’s a filmmaker–but he also wrote beautiful poetry. He always said that his film was just poetry, so that’s really what inspired me. And, of course, I’m inspired by a lot of South African writers.

Q: If you could bring back one thing from Colorado to Florida, what would it be?

A: I would bring back my lungs, so I could breathe again. I’m struggling a little bit with the air.

I really enjoy the people. They have been so gracious and so hospitable and kind. I found the students to be very stable and very intelligent.

By |2017-07-11T00:09:17-04:00October 4th, 2015|

Dori Varga at Rawlines Kunstblitz Berlin

Short film screening at kunstblitz, Berlin

Dori Varga at Rawlines

Exactly a week ago (16.07.) we held a movie screening for short films at KUNSTBLITZ for four young talents:

Nadine Poulain (Germany) showed a preview of documentary ‘U-977 – 66 Days Under Water’ followed by her art film on the same subject. ‘U-977 – 66 Days Under Water’ is a cinematic feature length documentary about the deeply human quest for freedom and self-determination. Set at the end of WW2, it is the story of Heinz Schäffer, former u-boat commander of U-977, and his crew.

Arata Mori’s (Japan) ‘Camino Negro’ is based on key concepts such as Body and Image, Repetition and Nomadism. Inspired by French modern philosophers such as Gilles Deleuze and Georges Bataille and indigenous traditions and mythologies from all over the world, Arata has created a number of multimedia artwork including photography, video, sculpture and dance performance. Camino Negro, written and directed by Arata Mori was selected for Short Film Corner at 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

Anja Marais’ (South Africa) ‘Cathedral’ is a tale about acceptance. Shot entirely in Russia, it is a visual and audio poem inspired by the poet Anna Akhmatova. Instead of fighting suffering our female protagonist decided through admission of her burden to achieve union with herself and nature. Anja’s previous film ‘Shift’ is in a permanent collection of MOCA and was also selected for the Cannes Film Festival Short Corner in 2013.

Irene Moray’s (Spain) ‘Bernarda Rodríguez’ is a mokumentary about an artist. Irene usually works for different producer companies as a still photographer but she also experiments with video and directed a couple of video art pieces. Usually her recurrent issues are dance, female body, and underwater scenes, but in this short film Irene is just having fun as she said, directed and starred about a Berlin artist.

The night was curated by my right hand, and of KUNSTBLITZ’s artists: Adela Holmes, photographer. After the show, I set down with Adela and asked her about experiences with this project.

Short film screening at KUNSTBLITZ

DV: How did you choose between works while picking out the final pieces?

AH: We received a lot of film submission for the KUNSTBLITZ Short Film selection but the four films I chose for the viewing were the ones, which kept me wondering. I wanted to see more and had the urge to find out what will happen. There was not a moment where I wanted to skip any of the scenes and to me that was the crucial aspect in choosing these films. While watching the submissions I learned that you really have to give a film a chance, which means to watch the whole thing. Sometimes, it is clear in the very beginning that this is crap but you don’t know yet if this crap is intentional which could result in pretty good. Its also tricky with the really slow art films where in that case beautiful imagery keeps you captivated. Other times its other things, but captivation I’d say is the number one interest grabber. Be it the story, the music, the expression but something has to grab you and evoke curiosity. The quality of the film does not matter, but to me the quality of an actor is a very crucial choice.

DV: What made you like the showed movies?

AH: Nadine Poulain’s film puts you in a mood of meditation while gorgeous imagery slowly interchanges, enforcing a feeling. It is important to feel a film otherwise why even bother. Arata Mori’s strangeness in combination of incredible sounds on the subject of repetition was loaded with symbolism I still don’t quite understand, but that’s OK. There is always time to dissect a film. Most impotently, the fifteen minutes felt like so much longer (in a good way) because of the amount and variety of impressions, captivating. The Anja Marais film I could watch forever. The character’s body language, mainly her walk, keeps you wondering where she might be going and what is her intend. I could follow this character thought the world wondering forever. Irene Moray’s film was interesting to watch. It was one of those where you didn’t know if this is intentionally bad and yes, a few minutes into the film the realization that it is, makes you burst out in a loud laughter. The other submissions didn’t catch my interest in that intensity as the four selections and so the decision-making was easy. It might be on a personal level but curating a show means you show what you believe in and these four filmmakers I can’t wait to follow and see what else they will do.

DV: This was your first film-related curatorial work. Was everything like you imagined at the screening?

AH: I can say I’ve learned a lot from curating my first films show. Firstly that film is a really tough nut. And that whoever dares this endeavor is valiant. Showing it is also a challenge. I was lucky to have picked filmmakers who were patient with me. Overall it went really well but hard is what I am on myself. What I should have done is not to trust the fact that it will look fantastic on a textured wall projected with a projector never tested on the wall. Some films did all right, not all. Even though I have curated many shows, the difference between curating a short films viewing and a show with still images has become apparent. It has to be quiet and dark during the viewing that sets a mood, which is hard to break once the film is over and that it sometimes results in an awkward silence. Breaking that silence means taking things in charge in a very different way then usual. Not my expertise, but thankfully the KUNSTBLITZ crew managed to save the situation, as usual.

By |2017-07-11T00:09:17-04:00May 2nd, 2014|

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|