Coloured by the Other
© Donovan Ward, 03/04/2012
Ideally art is a space for exploration, playing and learning. This work is the antithesis of creativity as its producers abdicate their individualised voices to work within a predetermined framework. This work is presented as a primed, colour by numbers canvas with a portrait, in black line, of an influential, powerful recognisable person who “speaks” for government and who has gained notoriety for his racialised comments. The lines mark out areas where 10 premixed colours are to be applied. Each area is numbered to correspond to the supplied colours. Viewers are invited to assist in sequentially painting it by referring to the colour code and painting instructions. The completed painting reveals this subject’s altered identity. The restrictive, predictable method and outcome of production also metaphorically illustrates the simplistic way people are essentialised or constructed by power elites .
Ingekleur: Outside The Lines
The AVA Gallery, Cape Town l 12 March - 4 April 2012
Guguletu Seven Memorial
© Donovan Ward & Paul Hendricks, 15/03/2006
On 3 March 1986 in the township of Guguletu, seven youth were murdered by the South African state. The Guguletu Seven memorial, dedicated to these seven youth who lost their lives during the liberation struggle, is located in close proximity to where the killings occurred. The memorial is built from Rustenberg granite, steel, screws, tile adhesive, bronze, bricks, cement and concrete.
The sculpture represents a discontinuous wall like structure. The seven figures cut out from the concrete and granite slabs speak to the seven families and the nation’s loss. The poses representing the seven youth are suggestive of play, dance and resistance, as it seeks to capture their humanity and spirit despite their absence. Their silhouetted forms are derived from the stenciled and spray-can art of the 1980s. On the supporting plinth, beneath each figure, is a bronze plaque with information on it dedicated to one of the youth. Each one of the seven youth are represented in this way.
The bronze plaques do not all bear portraits and dates of birth (due to the non-availability of personal details of certain of the youth). Each of the seven plaques however contain the name and date-of-death of the youth. The layout and wording of the plaques are styled on the silk-screened type commemorative posters of the 1980s.
The work pays tribute to and commemorates those who made the ultimate sacrifice to build a better South Africa and indeed world. The work is also representative of nation building, as it displays elements of ruin or incompleteness juxtaposed with areas that appears to have been recently built, thus echoing the Nicaraguan woman poet Vidaluz Meneses message: “Pain has been our challenge and the future our hope. We build as though composing a poem: writing, erasing, and creating anew”. These words reflect the spirit of the memorial, as it captures elements of completeness and incompleteness; ruin and visible structure, regularity and irregularity, asserting graphically and symbolically potential, possibility and hope.
Donovan Ward & Paul Hendricks
Details of image: Finished drawing for Memorial
Barbie Bartmann: Homecoming Queen [Artist's Statement]
© Donovan Ward, 11/12/2005
Generalized representations become fixed within a culture and conceptualized as if ‘true’ because constant repetition in a variety of forms and locales validate the oft repeated image and lends credibility to mytholised forms. Barbara Buntman, Whose Identity do we see?
Born in 1789 in the vicinity of the Eastern Cape, Sara Bartmann lived for a short period as a slave near Cape Town. Baptised in in 1811 as Sara Bartmann, a 'Hottentot' from the Cape Colony, her indigenous name is unknown to us.
It was in England and later Paris that Sara Bartmann was displayed as a sexualized exotic object, and subjected to medical and anthropological scrutiny. In Paris she allegedly lived as a prostitute, and after her death there in 1818 her dissected body was displayed at the Musee de l’Homme as a museum curiosity. It was only 184 years later, in 2002, that her remains were repatriated to her homeland, where she was buried as a Khoisan woman near the little town of Hankey .
Sara Bartmann has become a controversial and contentious historical figure, as many groups and individuals claim the right to represent her, and have contested the various roles she apparently assumed.
Sara Bartmann most probably belonged to the Gonaqua tribe, and was called many things in her lifetime. These included a ‘slave’, ‘Hottentot’, ‘showgirl’ and ‘prostitute’. Presently she continues to be labeled an ‘exotic aboriginal woman’, ‘Khoisan woman’, óuma’, ‘mama’, and ‘mother of the nation’.
This work attempts to explore the complexity of an African Identity as it relates to Sara Bartmann. It challenges stereotypical representations of community and fixed identities associated with race, class, culture and language.
While on the one hand this work acknowledges Sara Bartmann as a national icon symbolizing South Africa’s fragmented history, I also selected her image to highlight the manner in which historical images and symbols have been appropriated and commodified in a world of commercial interests.
Barbie Bartmann: Homecoming Queen [review]
© Mario Pissarra, 1/06/2005
English critic Mathew Collings says that art today is little more than a sound-bite, and he can’t recall when last he was seriously ‘challenged’ by an artist’s work. Ward’s latest exhibition, a series of Barbie dolls modeled on Sarah Bartmann, which are (mostly) dressed individually and displayed for sale on a glass shelf, tests Collings’ ideas. One could quickly construct not one but several soundbites: the displacement of a Eurocentric ideal by an Afro-centric one; the transformation of Sarah Bartmann into a symbol, an icon, and consequently a commodity; an iconoclastic, ‘lite’ treatment of a serious subject... Viewed as sound-bite art one can imagine offence being taken at this latest objectification of an already objectified, tragic figure, and Ward may be treading on dangerous grounds here. But Ward is a challenging artist: he makes art using the most unlikely of materials (‘painting’ with cement, for example); and over the last year alone his work could be mistaken as that of at least three different artists. Not least Ward is concerned with critical issues such as globalization, history, culture and identity; and refuses to make, as he puts it, “sanitized narratives.”
Ward interprets Bartmann as both victim and agent, and links these ideas to contemporary South African identities. The result is provocative: you are required to make the leap between a historical figure and a metaphor of displacement and repatriation, as well as of fragmentation and unity; and individual Barbies raise different questions. ContemporaryArtist, who is naked, raises the distinctions between Bartmann’s display as an exotic, sexualized object in colonial Europe and representations of the body by contemporary female artists. Examples such as Gay Barbie have little obvious relationship to their title, suggesting the importance of naming in conferring identities. Some Barbies highlight multiple, dynamic identities: a picketing figure refers to the crisis in the textile industry (Miss Spring Queen 2004). Then there are Barbies that seem to defy stereotypes but are actually spot on, such as NGO Barbie who reminds me of dolly comrades that do really exist. The invite, an image of Sandy Bay Barbie photographed on the beach suggests that contexts impact on identities. Clearly there is more going on here than can be done justice in 375 words, never mind a sound-bite.
* A slightly edited version of this review appeared in Art South Africa , 2005
Conversations with Donovan Ward [catalogue essay]
© Mario Pissarra, 6/06/2005
The featured artist for the third Botaki exhibition is Donovan Ward, one of ’s most promising artists. A professional artist for over a decade, Ward’s career has hit some high points in recent years: He represented South Africa in Senegal (Dak’Art 2002); and more recently Ward (in collaboration with Paul Hendricks) was commissioned by the Western Cape provincial government and Cape Town City Council to produce a public memorial to commemorate the Guguletu Seven (local youths set up and murdered by the apartheid security forces in 1986). Ward also produced African Thedemos (exhibited at the Everard Read Gallery, now in a private collection) a remarkable work that may well have been the most impressive work featured in the plethora of “celebrating a decade of democracy” exhibitions that were held across the country last year.
Notwithstanding these achievements, it can also be observed that Ward is regularly overlooked by South Africa’s most visible curators and writers: he does not feature in any of the now numerous books on South African art; and Dak’Art aside, he has been excluded from countless international exhibitions that feature South African art. Most surprisingly, his work is still to be bought by public and corporate collections.
In part Ward’s exclusion from the establishment is a conscious choice, he is after all an artist with a history of community oriented projects such as murals and exhibitions. Many of his works are also critical of the dominant socio-economic order. Furthermore he makes a challenging art that does not make it easy for curating-by-numbers, choosing instead to defy easy interpretations and upsetting conventional approaches to aesthetics. Interestingly it is not only his work that doesn’t fit easily into a box: classified ‘non-white’ and ‘kleurling’ by apartheid, Ward was called ‘whitey’ and ‘blanco’ by members of his own community. Ward is an astute artist who is all too familiar with the existential experience of both belonging and not.
Ward’s works are simultaneously physical and cerebral in quality, and are challenging in several respects. On a practical level Ward incorporates unorthodox materials such as cement, crete stone, ash, bone fragments, perspex, rust and lichen together with weathered photographs and images from the mass media. Technically several of these materials introduce their own dynamics when used to make images, challenges that require significant levels of innovation and engagement in order to achieve convincing results. The result is frequently as tactile and gritty as it is sophisticated and fresh.
Conceptually Ward alludes to a range of overlapping issues and concerns that reflect his experiences and concerns. Among his most persistent and pervasive themes are the legacies of western imperialism, colonialism and apartheid; contestation and resistance; the consequences of political and economic power on the lives of ordinary people; the challenges of democracy, not only in the political but also the artistic and cultural spheres; and questions of cultural identity and globalization.Wards techniques are consistent with his subject matter. In fact his methods embody his themes. He writes that:
“Erasure or a remnant evokes absence, genocide, and forgetting, migration, or transitory ties to place. Superimposition and the juxtaposition of one image, sign and/or materials over another imply contestation in the areas of political, social, cultural and economic fields, and also substitution, shifting power relations, and hybridity. The accumulation of materials and images suggests a present where the past and new developments in technology, pop[ular] culture and mass communication defer memory [and] meaning and reconfigure the present.”
Typically Ward engages with both his formal and conceptual themes through working in series, of which examples from the following are present on this exhibition: Real Estates, and The Erased House.Interpreting Wards work is an active process that challenges the traditional distinctions between the artist (as the active generator of meaning) and the viewer (as the passive recipient of that information). Indeed discovering meaning in Wards works sometimes seems to be as much about establishing relationships- both formal and thematic- within the parameters of the individual work itself, or within the series as a whole; as it is about prompting the viewer to reflect on the bigger issues out there that the works allude to. Something of his approach is revealed in the following statement:
"It is not my intention to construct coherent and idealized or sanitized narratives, but rather to foreground the divergent and fragmentary constructions of history and identity, and how it as well as mass media [and] technology offer a world where reality is manufactured and the fictive materializes as fact. A place/space where Mickey Mouse has a presence and a voice but real lives are silenced and rendered invisible or pushed to the periphery.” (D Ward)
As with previous Botaki exhibitions the featured artist is complemented by single works from other artists participating in the Botaki project, hence the ‘conversations’ theme. Acts of erasure, superimposition and layering can be detected in different forms and to differing degrees in the works of all artists represented, particularly Peter Clarke and Garth Erasmus. Discarded (‘found’) materials find new meanings in the works by Tyrone Appollis, Clarke, and Madi Phala. Apparently incompatible media find formal resolution in the works by Ayesha Price, Solomon Siko and Ernestine White. Archaic, iconic motifs and symbols that refer to a mythical past (not seen in the Ward’s on show but visible in several of his works) feature in the works by Erasmus and Phala. Apartheid and its legacy inform works by Clarke, Lionel Davis, Erasmus and White. The lives of marginalized, forgotten (‘anonymous’) individuals are alluded to in works by Clarke, Davis, Erasmus, and Randolph Hartzenberg; and countered by the specific identities that come through autobiography (self-portraiture by White) and biography (portraiture by Price).
Interestingly, beyond ‘conversing’ with Ward, several of the works introduce new conversations amongst themselves, providing for a suitably multi-layered, open-ended encounter.
References: D Ward “Notes on methods, materials and themes” 2005.
This essay featured in the catalogue for Botaki Exhibition 3: Conversations with Donovan Ward, an exhibition curated by Mario Pissarra for Old Mutual Asset Managers, Cape Town , 2005