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WIM BOTHA (article first published : 2005-01-26)

The 2005 Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Art is Wim Botha. Born in Pretoria in 1974, he completed his BA (Visual Arts) at the University of Pretoria with a distinction in sculpture.

Art, in some form, was always going to be part of his life. Wim shyly reveals that his mother knew from his earliest years that fine art was where he was headed and actively encouraged and supported him. The process and the struggle to realise his intentions, though, has been intensely personal and is never-ending. It is, however, a fairly recent decision to make art his life work, excluding all other ways of earning his daily bread. Recognition, in the form of this award has given him the confidence to concentrate on his quiet passion.

So why sculpture? The concrete reality of each creation is absolute. Once completed, however, the tactile dimensionality invites further speculation - an intellectual, theoretical dimension - which involves the spectator. Wim finds a great deal of satisfaction in watching viewers at his exhibitions. His Pieta was recently displayed in the Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York City as part of the South African season currently on view. In a photograph he took of the work, an unknown woman is kneeling before it in intense prayer. "She just came in and began to pray", he says, "and I don't think she knew the installation was part of an exhibition". For him, her presence completed the act of creation.

Wim uses prosaic substances such as mealie-meal, anthracite, salt, and paper to create his works, though he feels strongly that it is the subject that dictates the medium.

Duality is often inherent in his work. Of his Crucifixion, constructed of thousands of sheets of printed Bible pages, he says: "Paper carries information - even though I have compressed and carved the bundles, they can all be unbolted and the sheets individually removed, so the information can be re-accessed".

Used in another work, sheets and sheets of Government Gazettes contain statistics, censorship reports, details of births and marriages. Wim is fascinated by the definition of individuals within a group, and the definition of space also motivates him. This is why many of his works take the form of composed installations. Something about the artificial definition of a room that is both present and theoretical lies at the heart of his impulse to create. On being asked how he feels when an installation is taken down and is no longer on view his response is: "That's fine. I like observing people's reactions, but once I have finished the work, I have already moved on. Even if the work is packed away in a store-room somewhere, it is complete."

Wim has received numerous awards and bursaries, despite being only 30 years old. In 2002 he was awarded the Ampersand Foundation Fellowship for a two-month residency in New York City and Washington DC. With Churchill Madikida, he was the joint recipient of the inaugural Tollman Award for the Visual Arts In 2003. He has had many solo exhibitions as well as selected group exhibitions and collections.

Wim Botha's work is intensively pre-planned. Every detail is conceptualised beforehand because so much has to be accurately constructed or die-cut. Part of him sometimes yearns for abstraction, but he finds it impossible to work in three dimensions and not reflect the figurative or an observed reality. He is a very private person but conversely says that his life is contained in his art and can be decoded by anyone who cares to look carefully.




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