There is something oddly scary about walking into an exhibition. Usually, exhibits are set up in such an overwhelming space, it feels like walking around naked and you’re trying to keep a poker face, look at each piece…perhaps nod slightly. That is until you find that piece that just completely knocks you off your feet, whether it is with disgust or with joy. What I love though is that it really doesn’t matter. You come to your own conclusions as to what you feel a particular artwork means to you and that’s that.
Admittedly it has been a really long time since I’ve set foot in a museum, never mind an art museum. Sometimes, life and work get the better of you and time just doesn’t accommodate a nice day out. This is exactly why I urge you to make some time and visit the Pretoria Art Museum to have a look at this year’s Sasol New Signatures exhibition. I was fortunate enough to meet some of the finalists and merit award winners and listen to them explain their thought process and what inspired their artworks. This of course always helps a lot in terms of making an artwork more approachable.
Sasol New Signatures has made great strides in helping upcoming artists get the necessary exposure to get their careers started. For thousands of years, art has been a great stage for social commentary. Not only does it adorn our walls and public spaces, it comments on the issue of identity within the environment we find ourselves in. This year, this seemed to be a revolving theme at the Sasol New Signatures. As the organisers stated, it is not so much a selfish or self-involved exploration of identity, but rather the issue of identity within a certain political climate, environment or culture.
Far in the corner of the exhibition space, three long gauze worker dresses are suspended from the ceiling in a very regal manner. Upon closer inspection, you notice that the garments are filled with cushion pins and pinned down the bottom with three vintage sewing machines. When you look up, you realise that the light shining on the garments cast an eerie shadow of several garments. Cape-Town based artist Zyma Amien was crowned the overall winner with her work “Paying Homage”. It is with great passion and emotion that Amien speaks about her work. Her work pays homage to her mother and grandmother who worked in the garment and textile industry and never got to enjoy the fruits of their labour. Amien tackles important issues such as exploitation and minimum wages for workers both locally and internationally. She hopes that her work would shed light on the emotional, physical and economical wounds the fashion industry inflict upon not only the workers but also their families.
All shortlisted artworks along with 2015 winner, performance artist, Nelmarie du Preez’s solo exhibition will be exhibited at the Pretoria Art Museum until the 9th of October. The 2016 Sasol New exhibition consists of a hundred artworks from unknown artists all over South Africa.
If you are not able to visit the museum, don’t fret. Sasol New Signatures have introduced the first of its kind in South Africa, 360-degree virtual walk around of the gallery.
I also wrote an article about Sasol New Signatures, in this publication of Neighbourhood, a lifestyle supplement to the Sunday Times.
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