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THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (article first published : 2005-02-13)

Through the looking glass is a groundbreaking art exhibition that has been mounted to celebrate the Centenary of Rhodes University which opens at the Durban Art Gallery on March 2. It is complemented by a book with the same name.

Brenda Schmahmann, Professor and Head of Fine Art at Rhodes University, is the curator of the exhibition and author of the book. The exhibition examines representations of self by South African women artists. Comprising a wide range of significant works that have been borrowed from public and private collections, it explores the many intriguing ways in which paintings, sculptures, prints, photographs speak of women’s relation to their communities and a broad range of social concerns.

The title of the exhibition alludes to the adventures of Alice in the celebrated writings of Lewis Carroll. Equally, it refers to the mirrors that artists have historically used to make images of self. However, as the show reveals, women artists in South Africa do not produce self-representations that are uncritical reflections of traditional ideas.

Perhaps the most important painting, Dorothy Kay’s Elvery Family has been loaned from the South African National Gallery in Cape Town. Although made in 1938, it is astonishingly contemporary in its displacements of space and time and in its focus on memory.

A unique self-portrait by ceramic sculptor, Bonnie Ntshalintshali, will be on exhibition. Made in 1991, it is the only work that the curator has ever encountered in which a South African black woman artist represents herself in the context of a studio and surrounded by materials for making art.

The visitor will also have the opportunity to view Antoinette Murdoch’s self-portrait of herself as a paper doll, a video by Candice Breitz in which the artist mimics the Julia Roberts character in the Hollywood movie, Pretty Woman, as well as poignant life-sized nudes by Wilma Cruise and Pamela Melliar.

Penny Siopis, Kathryn Smith, Terry Kurgan, Tracey Rose, Juliette Armstrong, Angela Buckland, Bongi Bengu, Lallitha Jawahirilal, Christine Dixie, Leora Farber and Jean Brundrit are just some of the other well-known South African women artists whose works are in the show.

Rhodes University provided sponsorship towards the exhibition. The National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, the National Arts Council of South Africa and David Krut Arts Resource sponsored the book as well as an educational brochure and education programmes that form part of this project. The Joint Research Committee at Rhodes University provided funding for research undertaken by the curator/author. The companion book can be purchased at the exhibition venue.

The exhibition runs at the Durban Art Gallery from March 2 to April 12.




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