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Posted on: Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Humanearth – local, young artists with a conscience – ’til Saturday in Cape Town

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Wessel Snyman Creative describes itself as a ‘progressive fine art gallery on Bree Street’. I find the building with relative ease, considering I usually have to orientate myself thoroughly on Google maps before venturing into the Cape Town city bowl – I’m such a suburban, I am ashamed to say. When I’m all grown up and finished driving my five-year old from a to b, I’ll stay a while in the centre of Cape Town and get to know it better.

But for now I find my way around via a combination of car ticket distributors (what do you call the guys who charge you to park in town – they’re not exactly metre maids, now, are they?) and maps on the Internet. I can’t do map books, they’re too confusing.

Be that as it may, finding Wessel Snyman Creative is not difficult. They’re on the lower end of Bree Street, so a quick whip into Strand off Buitengracht, a left into Bree, and a couple of blocks will bring you down opposite the gallery. The right side of the road having been pointed out to me by helpful ticket guy, I ventured up to beautiful wrought iron gate that apparently comes with the building.

Chris, Wessel’s assistant in the gallery, greets me at the door and ushers me into the large, roomy space that has a modern and gentle industrial feel about it. Their aim has been to create a gallery that doesn’t intimidate and this they have achieved flawlessly. I’m usually hesitant entering galleries – there tends to be an atmosphere that defies my better nature and makes me feel rather gormless. I’m usually awkward and find myself second-guessing my outfit, something I haven’t done since I was a teenager – wish I’d worn the orange top, this pink one…

But this place is lovely. There are huge plate glass windows and the building is art deco, if I’m not mistaken. There are a few smatterings of vintage furniture around the beautiful  floor for light relief, which I believe are for sale.

Wessel Snyman Creative
Photographs – Left: The gallery on Bree Street / Centre: Natasha Daniels’ sketch / Right: Janet Ranson

Against the far wall rests a piano on which there are numerous frames, for Wessels and Chris also frame in their spare time – they do hand gilded picture frames and bespoke framing, hence the work area around the piano with tools neatly displayed on various hooks. Fashion, jewellery, and bookbinding all make it into the gallery, which they’ve modelled on the early Guggenheim gallery to include other design media.

I like Wessel’s approach. His goal is to have a gallery that has a similar impetus to young artists – to step confidently onto the art scene, intent on adding, if not redefining contemporary art and exhibition practice in South Africa. You can’t help but admire someone as young as Wessel, who wants to create platforms specifically for emerging artists. The art scene badly needs it.

I’m here to view Humanearth, a conversation of different art works by Janet Ranson, Isabeau Joubert, Janet Botes, Nastasha Daniels and Danny Shorkend that lines the walls of the gallery until this Saturday, 22 January. Janet Botes sent me an invite but I’d been unable to make the Ecojunki movement’s opening.

The aim of the Humanearth exhibition is to raise awareness of the ways in which we harm the planet and also the ways that we live in harmony with nature; it seeks to explore the theme of human interaction with nature. And the theme that links all the works is the idea of conversation – between humans and the earth, the artist and public and between the artists themselves.

At the heart of Janet Botes’ work is her play on trees. She has found that her focus has shifted to what she calls ‘land art’ – using naturally occurring materials in the landscape to create temporary pieces of art that she then documents in photos. Her baobabs are beautiful and I enjoy the tactile earthiness of her display. Her sketches inspire me. Janet’s charcoal and mixed media on paper, which you will see against the window in the display cabinets, too captures something of the industrial in the landscape. The grunge of her charcoal sketches conveys the urban environment.

Photographs – Left: Danny Shorkend / Right: Janet Botes’ sketches

The delicacy of Nastasha Daniels’ illuminated sketches displayed in lightboxes on the floor of the gallery are pretty and capture something of the fragility of the environment. She sees these as a microcosm exploring human interaction with earth. Throughout these, is a play on language – letters of the alphabet are scattered liberally throughout her work and literally on the floor, which she sees as a ‘forced engagement with thoughts of the land’. She is also the curator of the exhibition.

Danny Shorkend, by comparison, is alive with colour – bright, almost garish, and predominantly uses painting in oil and other mixed media. He investigates the question: ‘what is matter?’, which leads him to contemplate consciousness and the human mind and how these contemplate nature.

He explains that through the ‘stuff’ of paint, we, the viewer, are led to the energetic quality of matter and, as the paint is organised by the will, a sense of symbolic value is unearthed. He doesn’t allow for the difference between consciousness and mind, interestingly, but speaks of the artist as having a ‘will’. But I think this is the gist of his exploration – the energy of the mind to materialise form and thus relate to the earth.

Janet Ranson’s mixed media works, definitely spring from herself as the focus. It is interesting to see an artist beginning ‘at home’, so to speak, rather than ‘out there’. Her works involve portraits and pictures of her place in the world and are an effort, she says, to understand the patterns of life, her place in it, and how to reverse human destruction of the environment.

When: The exhibition runs only until this Saturday, 22 January 2011.
Where: Wessel Snyman Creative, 17 Bree Street, Cape Town
Times: 10am – 6pm
For more: +27 (0)21 418-0980

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Wanda Coustas


Wanda Coustas has written in one form or another for 10 years, seven of them as a copyblogger. She has travelled the Western Cape extensively and the rest of the country in protracted road trips that have given her both joy and an ongoing relish for experiencing what she writes about first-hand. She is a trained opera singer, poet, eurythmy dancer, philosopher, and bee whisperer.

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