In Ireland over the past few months, there have been a number of art exhibitions recording the fallout of the massive economic recession and the impact of the humiliating €67.5 billion bailout on the formerly roaring Celtic Tigers' ego. Photos have been taken of Irish emigrants fleeing the record high unemployment rate, and of incomplete housing developments standing unsold and empty. Artists are using vacated warehouse space to mount exhibitions attacking austerity measures and expressing their anger at the financial disaster, which was allowed to happen just years after Ireland's boom time.
Although we haven't needed to receive bailouts in South Africa, we certainly haven't been unaffected by the world-wide slump, and you may wonder why local artists are not equally vociferous. The truth is that we have been fighting our very local crisis for rather a lot longer, so much so that many of us are suffering compassion fatigue, preferring to bury our heads in the sand and hope to heck that it never affects us or our loved ones. That crisis is the HIV/AIDS pandemic and before you turn the page, read just a little further about an inspiring, hope-promoting exhibition that is coming soon to a gallery near you.
Entitled The A.R.T. Show, it is curated by Carol Brown and David Gere, with major funding by the Andy Warhol Foundation and additional support from the Ford Foundation. If these big names still don't get you just a little interested, then you may well be reading the wrong column. The A.R.T. in the show title refers to antiretroviral treatment (ART) and the show explores many aspects of accessibility to ARTs, and the effects of a lack of access.
Most importantly, the work is fantastic. Forget about misery-inducing, guilt-provoking or the barely understandable. Undoubtedly thought-provoking, the art is also instantly accessible, much of it with a strong craft foundation, and even your children will be fascinated. There are works by the well-known names: a William Kentridge animated film entitled “Medicine Chest” will enthral if you're a fan. However the lesser known works have possibly the greatest impact. “The Keiskamma Guernica” is a large embroidered work by the Keiskamma Art Project, based on Picasso's famous 1937 painting that was a protest against the Spanish civil war. The original has been deftly adapted to reflect its South African context, for example using the blankets of patients to form the background.
Woza Moya crafters put together “Beaded Curtains” which has three different curtains, with the third made up of stories from each of the women in the group, explaining how they are affected by HIV. The small pinkish panels are crocheted together giving the impression of a set of postage stamps or an ornate old-fashioned bedspread, drawing you in close to read the poignant stories.
A third work entitled “The Tower” by the Siyazama Project is made up of 634 beaded cloth “orphan dolls” which represent the 634 AIDS orphans in Dannhauser Village in rural KZN. The cuteness of the dolls attracts you over to inspect more closely so you can appreciate the skill of the crafters. However, the size of the tower is an enormously powerful tool to reflect the size of the problem where there are this many orphans in a small village.
Another of the works on display is a portable trunk, designed and manufactured by Xavier Clarisse. It is based on an old-fashioned “cabinet of curiosities” and is filled with works by different artists. The contents may change as the show moves around but the version I saw included Japanese paper prayers, foetuses made from skin, ceramic hands from Ardmore Ceramics, photographs, beaded dolls and paintings. The unfolded trunk has shelves which you are encouraged to open, giant test-tubes containing “oddities” and enough items of interest to keep you walking around it again and again, just to make sure you didn't miss anything.
There are other works too: a spiral of photographs and stories, sculptures of fibre optics, a tribute wall created by over a hundred artists, and more besides. The exhibition is on at the KZNSA in Durban until the end of March, then in Cape Town in April at the Michaelis Gallery and ending in Johannesburg over May and June at Museum Africa, before leaving the country for stops in Malawi and the USA.
You may well feel you are suffering from compassion fatigue but Paula Thomson of Woza Moya Crafters puts it far better than I can as a reason to visit this exhibition when she writes that “from the depths of this incredible pain and suffering comes a glimmer of hope and I have yet to find where this hope stems from in communities in such crisis. But it is there, a most powerful force. It is what makes us get up in the morning to draw the curtains.” If you want a small insight into this hope, get yourself over to this exhibition. asa
Author: Jennifer Ferreira CA(SA), BBdgArts, BCompt (Hons), is a financial manager at The Unlimited.