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.
The full catalog of the exhibition is available now online.:
From the Catalog:
A LONG, THIN STRAND OF THE ANCESTRAL
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.