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PARTURIENT PROSPECTS (article first published : 2007-11-9)

Parturient Prospects is an important body of new works by South African artist and fine art lecturer at Rhodes University, Christine Dixie, which opens at the Durban Art Gallery on November 21.

Making its debut at the National Arts Festival, Parturient Prospects will form part of a retrospective show by the artist at the Standard Bank Art Gallery in Johannesburg later this year. An innovative feminist exploration of the theme of maternity, the various components of this exhibition were begun when Dixie was pregnant and were completed in the months following the birth of her daughter in February 2006.

Dixie is well known for her engagement with representations of the Eastern Cape landscape and - as David Bunn put it: “its role in the formation of white settler subjectivity”. Equally she is known for her insightful explorations of the ways in which a construction of gender identities is informed by histories of representation, particularly visual images. While its primary theme is maternity, this exhibition develops out of these two longstanding interests. As the word “Prospects” in the title suggests, Dixie is referring to the act of searching for - or mining - new land as well as to a sense of expectation of motherhood.

A key work in the Parturient Prospects series, 'The Interior” is both a map of the African continent and a diagram of female reproductive organs, and includes allusions to both geographical and medical discourses from early modern Europe.

Writing about her research into cartography, Dixie elaborates on this work: Empty or 'undiscovered' spaces were often filled in with exotic animals and monsters. The borders of countries were often fluid, changing as new discoveries were made. Similarly the pregnant body is seen as 'monstrous', it's outline undetermined, its inside 'undiscovered'.

References to geographical and medical discourses are coupled with allusions to religious representations, especially scenes of the Annunciation from Renaissance art. In synthesizing references to different kinds of visual histories, Dixie comments on the ways in which they use devices to construct woman as “other” and to situate her as a voiceless 'object' rather than an empowered 'subject'. More significantly, her works challenge their authority. By invoking simultaneous allusions to visual discourses that are normally kept discrete from one another, Dixie's works make evident their gendered underpinnings. And by reworking motifs from the representations which serve as her sources, she interferes with their meanings. In keeping with a strategy adopted by many feminist artists working in postmodernist frameworks, Dixie uses 'otherness' as a position of strength and a place from which she can transgress inherited norms and understandings.

Christine Dixie is an accomplished printmaker whose works are included in South African and overseas collections. Here, as in her solo exhibition, Hide, which formed part of the National Art Festival fringe in 2002, she has coupled techniques traditional to printmaking with other media and making processes. For example, a series of 'reliquaries' included in this exhibition are three-dimension structures that include 'found' objects, amongst them actual “relics” of the birth of her daughter- the child's umbilicus as well as the wristbands that she and her daughter wore in hospital. Dixie's skills as a printmaker serve as a starting point for an intensive exploration of materials and techniques- one in which the possibilities of installation as well as digital constructions are developed along with, for example, woodcut processes.

Parturient Prospects is accompanied by a full colour catalogue with essays by David Bunn and Brenda Schamann. The exhibition runs at the Durban Art Gallery from November 21 to January 27. More information from the Durban Art Gallery on 031 311 2264.




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