9 March 2015 Archived
Mapogga Wedding (1952) finds Alexis Preller on the cusp between a relatively naturalistic depiction of his African subject and the investiture of that subject with mystical and hieratic properties and overtones.
While his depiction of the exotic detail associated with the celebration of marriage – the isiyaya or beaded marriage veil, the colours and beaded detail of the blankets worn by bride and groom, the brass arm rings worn in ostentation of prosperity, as well as the drawing of the figures – remains relatively faithful, there are also other interpretive energies at play.
Thus, if you imagine the bride standing up, it will be clear that her shape will taper strongly towards the head while at the hips – the physical zone associated with childbearing - she will spread impressively. So too there is an ambiguity built into the head of the bridegroom, whose almond-shaped eyelids show no eyes within. The image – and it transfers to the way one reads the bride’s expression too – is evocative as much of a mask as it is of a human physiognomy, and takes the painting’s subject out of time and space and into a timeless zone of cosmic mythology and cultural spirituality.
By the same token, the female figures pressing in from the shallow background, similarly ambiguous in the inwardness of their mask-like gaze function more strongly at a symbolic and ritual level than they do within any system of sensory human interaction. They serve as ancestral witnesses to the mystery more than gogos or elders in the dominantly matriarchal life of the Ndebele people.
Eventually Preller’s concern with African tradition and proto-mythology would lead to his invention of a virtual race of imaginary ur-Africans and its associated cosmology and conventional expressions – a language of expression that grew so personalised and arcane that the South African art public at large mistakenly dismissed it in incomprehension as a species of ’surrealism’ – but in 1952 and in dealing with a subject familiar to him as a resident of Pretoria, the implications of his formal choices are accessible enough. Like that of many artists of his generation Preller’s work was crucially guided and vivified by heady encounters with modernist innovation and aesthetic revolution on study trips abroad. Indeed the trajectory of Preller’s art, in common with that of his peers, is predicated on this overwhelming problematic: of finding ways of using what he had learned in one continent to discover and develop a discourse of artistic identity under different circumstances and under a different sun.
Preller saw himself first and foremost as an African, but like white Africans before and after him from JH Pierneef and Irma Stern to JM Coetzee and Max Du Preez, the big question was what that glib attribution could mean. For Preller, his ongoing interrogations led into the kind of terrain traversed by CG Jung in his analysis of collective memory and archetype evoking a perennial sense of wonderment in his depictions of the continent, its moods and its internalised or projected cosmologies – a fascination with found objects which he experienced as alive with significances and referred to as his ‘household gods’. What makes Mapogga Wedding so unique in this broader context is the conviction with which it moves between observed reality and its projection on to the timeless canvas of myth and cosmology.
Important South African & International Art, Decorative Arts & Jewellery
Monday 16 March 2015
Venue: The Vineyard Hotel, Newlands, Cape Town
Preview: Friday 13 to Sunday 15 March 10am to 5pm
Walkabouts conducted by Stephan Welz and Emma Bedford: Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 March at 11:00am
For press enquiries please contact Bina Genovese email@example.com / 021 683 6560 / 083 680 9944