Growing up in South Africa within the 1950s and ’60s, it was inevitable that Penny Siopis’ work could be political.
The multimedia artist was born throughout apartheid, South Africa’s interval of legislated segregation, and started her profession within the 1980s when anti-apartheid activist (and later president) Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. The “momentous changes of the country” essentially formed her artwork, mentioned Siopis.
“You’re not just painting or making work about the empirical changes that you witness, but actually the psychological changes,” she mentioned.
Siopis expressed a few of these psychological modifications in her sequence “Shame.” Comprising 165 work created over three years between 2002 and 2005, Siopis mentioned the sequence was a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission — a authorities physique established to analyze human rights violations that happened throughout apartheid — that explored the “questions around culpability, vulnerability and shame that the Commission raised.”
“Shame” (2002-2005) contains 165 small, tile-size work exploring themes of guilt, trauma and grief. Credit: Mario Todeschini
Now, almost 20 years after beginning on the sequence, Siopis revisited “Shame” earlier this 12 months in a digital artwork work, analyzing gender-based violence in South Africa.
The psychology of disgrace
Dynamic, summary figures dominate the work in shades of orange and crimson, contrasted in opposition to the sharp white background. Siopis used lacquer and oil paint to create a “distressed” and “agitated” look, together with phrases from rubber stamps she present in a youngsters’s craft retailer.
Shame is a common emotion that performs out each privately and publicly, mentioned Siopis. It’s that dichotomy that she delves into in every tile-sized portray. Examining the “complicity” of the person in apartheid South Africa, Siopis tries to provide type to the psychological and emotional turmoil of the interval — and the scars it left behind.
Artist Penny Siopis (pictured) explores trauma and emotions of disgrace via her work. Credit: Source
“I think people in the larger world are very interested in South Africa being a kind of microcosm of social-political experiences across the globe, but they often don’t have the sense of what it is: the psychological complexity of what it might mean to have lived in a society like ours, and still live in a society like ours,” mentioned Siopis.
Siopis used lacquer, glue, varnish, oil and watercolor paint, in addition to an assortment of “found” objects, together with stick-on eyes and rubber stamps from a youngsters’s craft retailer. Credit: Mario Todeschini
Using “found footage” — fragments of 8mm and 16mm movie Siopis purchased at flea markets — the movie was commissioned by the Peltz Gallery within the School of Arts at Birkbeck, University of London.
While disgrace is a “toxic” feeling, Siopis believes it is usually the inspiration of empathy. “(People) find in these artworks a space to imagine what it might have been like, and what it might be like in South Africa, rather than just to take the given media narrative,” she mentioned.
Taking the viewer “beyond the empirical or statistical,” Siopis hopes her artwork can spark conversations and create a brand new story for South Africa.
“We’re often afraid of change,” she mentioned. “It always amazed me when people said under apartheid, ‘Oh, we can’t change overnight.’ Well, what the pandemic has said is yes, you change overnight: you can, we all do, it’s possible. And this is the global change. I embrace change, and I think my medium, the way I work with the medium, somehow gives a physical form to that embrace.”