Bianca + Brenda Hofman

Writing is like eating. I need to do it to feel good.   ̴- Bianca Hofman

Bianca and Brenda are sisters from The Netherlands. Brenda is a photographer and Bianca, an ultrashort story writer. They are expats living in Barcelona who have combined their artistic skills to create works that are visually engaging while delving into the human condition. In May of last year, the Hofman Project premiered 36 ultrashort flash fiction stories. Over cookies and cupcakes at a local cafe, I learned how the collaboration began

Three years ago, Brenda moved to Barcelona. Like many people who relocate, she immediately began exploring her new city. A key part of this exploration involved photographing her surroundings. Yet, when one views the images, the sites and scenes a visitor associates with Barcelona are not clearly evident.

While walking the streets and alleyways of her new home, she was drawn to shapes, patterns, and light. She has a discerning eye. If something catches her attention, no matter how minuscule, the shutter is activated.

After amassing quite a collection of photographs during the first year, she was anxious to do something with them. Already 'in love' with Bianca's stories, Brenda thought her photographs could serve as additional inspiration for her sister's writing. They each shared works, talked, planned, and the ultrashort flash fiction stories were born.

"Everything inspires me; life inspires me", Brenda says and her sister concurs. Yet there are specific aspects of life that they gravitate toward in their art mediums. While the works are distinctly Barcelona, Bianca says, "we can show the other side of a city... We show our fears in our work." A testament to their symbiotic relationship and "similar vision" is that at times, Bianca shares one of her stories and Brenda says, "I have a picture for that."

Their work is raw, poignant, honest, and dignified. It is without pretense. As Brenda comments, there are things that are "not so pretty about you and the people around you....life is a struggle."

Photographing and writing stories about missing pieces, broken things, loneliness, and depression is a commentary on life. Yet the ways in which these topics are handled is worthy of note and calls to mind the I Give Everything Away series by French American artist Louise Bourgeois. In their work, the viewer is positioned as a close friend and confidant, privy to the artists' innermost thoughts and feelings. An intersubjectivity exists and through this, the realization that you are not alone.

Antonio Carreño


                        

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time. - Thomas Merton

The first time I saw one of Antonio Carreño’s paintings, I was instantly drawn to it. The colours were the first to attract me, but then I became lost in the other worldliness of the painting. A duality existed upon the canvas. It was a painting, yet had sculptural elements. There were constructed dimensions, reliefs, and crevices. These grabbed my attention and then transported me into another sphere. The painting was mystical and, at the same time, completely familiar.

Since my first introduction, Carreño’s style has changed, but the essence of his work remains. It is always dynamic and engaging. Inspired by the universe, many of his early works are texturally complex. He frequently used natural and man-made materials such as sand, sawdust, and ground paper as a foundation for the paintings’ tactility.  

In a universal way, we sometimes talk about the air as separate from the universe, but for me I look at the earth as part of the universe and most of the things in the universe are related to the earth. If we want to know the answers to the universe, we can look to the earth - its right in front of us.

Holy Night  (2012), oil on canvas

Carreño has mastered the technique of creating atmosphere. He works in layers and manipulates geometric patterns and colours to construct planes of existence. One quickly becomes captivated by the paintings’ visual dialogue. His paintings take the viewer on an expedition where one discovers more the longer one views the painting. The vivacity of the paintings results in the viewer’s inter-action with the art. Unable to focus one’s eyes on a particular area, the energy, movement, progression, and harmony within the work hold the viewer’s attention. He paints without constraints or limits. As such, painting becomes a spontaneous and experimental journey yet, seemingly contradictory, it is also controlled and deeply profound.  

I mix my colours and I start to work. I have a general understanding as to how I want to structure the different density of the colours. Most of the time I try to use more heavy colours on the bottom as it grounds the painting and then as I move up I use lighter colours. It’s just a psychological way of how we are ourselves. Your thoughts are coming through your head and you are grounded by the floor. The quality of things is much lighter on the top and heavier on the ground. In most of my latest work, I might have a different spectrum, where the finalities are harmonious around the paintings themselves. I always use a touch of primary colours, red and yellow. Yellow is light to me, it’s an important colour and I use it as light. If I’m using secondary colours there would always be the appearance of the primary colours, to reflect the energy of the painting itself.

Carreño's use of colour is influenced by his cultural background.

Light ... comes very naturally. I think growing up in the Caribbean, the main thing that hits you every day is the sun. No one in the Caribbean is separated from interaction with the sun. In painting, there’s energy between the art and artists in general. The energy of a painting has the energy of the artists.
 
Carreño’s interest in humanity and the “driving forces” of our lives contribute to his body of work, Gravitation. This series continues his attention to the universe and humanity’s place within it.

Blue Ensemble (2008), oil on canvas

Scientists acknowledge that the universe is expanding, yet, they are unaware of exactly how this is occurring. The driving forces of the universe, in many respects, remain unknown as do the driving forces among individuals. It is this mystery Antonio seeks to explore.  

He states, “gravitation creates everything”. Gravitation is an unseen fundamental aspect of our daily existence in both a physical and social way. Just as our bodies are attracted to the earth through gravitation, there is also the magnetism which exists between individuals. This applies to strangers whom we physically gravitate towards for some unknown reason as well as mental gravitation, thinking of a person at a certain time and having an unexplained, yet urgent need to make contact.

Sequence of Thoughts #2 (2011), oil on canvas

Carreño’s art, like the universe, expands with no end in sight. He continuously pushes himself and his art to express the holistic nature of the universe and the universal elements that connect us all.

A lot of the information in the color is presented within the soul of a thing. Sometimes a painting as a whole will reflect feelings and emotions that can’t be captured. Colors can capture the emotion. It can be the end of the afternoon (or) the space of the ocean.

Phase Ascending (2012), oil on canvas


Anabel Jujol


There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be at time when we fail to protest.

-      Elie Wiesel

Protest Art Artivisme "Lampedusa ist here" (2014), photograph

Protest art has a long and varied history. Regardless of the medium, it provokes and inspires. While walking along the Rhine River in Düsseldorf, Germany on a cloudy Sunday afternoon, I happened upon the art piece Lampedusa. It gave me pause. Literally. With the river serving as the backdrop, stuffed black plastic bags of varying sizes representing the bodies of children and adults were ceremoniously displayed. The retrospective mood was fortified by lit candles and somber music.
 

"Trauermarsch" Lampedusa ist here. Protest Art  (2015), photograph

Inches from the symbolic body bags stood a tent bearing the name Frontex along with statistics on the thousands of migrants who have died at sea.

I had to meet the artist who conceived this work. A month later, I met Anabel Jujol, an activist, performance artist, and painter. As we sat and talked in Karo, the art gallery she shares with two other artists, her enthusiasm was palpable.

Jujol has two passions, art and activism. She once believed that these were mutually exclusive, but her involvement in the Occupy Movement changed this perception.

In 2011, like many others, she was inspired by Spain's Occupy Movement, Los Indignados. Further motivated by Stéphane Hessel's Time for Outrage: Indignez-vous!, Jujol along with five others began Occupy Düsseldorf in October 2011.

In time, the occupiers realised that their efforts were not leading to meaningful and lasting global social change. Individuals became disheartened and the Movement waned. Yet, Jujol recalls, "the smaller the movement became, the more art was made."

Düsseldorf's Occupy camp ended in August 2012. This, however, did not lessen her resolve. She continues her activism in diverse and inspired ways.

1% liebt 99% - Protestkunst auf der Kö in Düsseldorf (2015), photograph

Jujol envisions site specific performances. As with Lampedusa, the setting is key. Performances are often staged in heavily trafficked areas to encourage participation from passers-by. This leads to work that she describes as "very organic".

1% liebt 99% - Protestkunst auf der Kö in Düsseldorf (2015), photograph

In 1% loves 99%, performers donned costumes to emphasize stark differences in social class. They then strolled along Königsallee, a street known for its high-end boutiques. Performers interacted with the public, many of whom eagerly participated.

When Jujol is not staging public art performances, she paints.

INTR #1 (2010), oil in canvas

Born in Germany to a Spanish father and Dutch mother, Jujol is quite interested in the concept and malleability of identity. She explores and critiques the placement and displacement of individuals and groups in modern societies.

Talking with her and viewing her work, I was reminded of The Monkey's Mask: Identity, Memory, Narrative and Voice (2003) in which Chris Kearney refers to identity as a "knotty problem". Her paintings are visual representations of the profoundness of identity. It is deep, vast, complicated, interwined, and a journey. So are Jujol's paintings. When viewing her work, one feels as if one is casting off on a journey into another dimension and that eventually the unknown or as yet undiscovered will be found.

STRW #2 (2014), oil and mixed media on canvas

Sinuous lines resembling the density and strength of roots interact upon the canvas. There is a sense of movement, growth, and constant change.

Whether a performance or painting, Jujol questions social norms in varied and inspired ways and invites the viewer to do the same.

INTR #2 (2011),  oil on canvas


Phoebe Farris


Art should reveal the unknown, to those who lack the experience of seeing it.

-Jaune Quick-to-See-Smith

Dr Phoebe Farris is an artist, scholar, independent curator, art therapist, author, and editor. By pursuing areas in which she is passionate, Farris has had an exciting and enviable career. For 22 years she worked at Purdue University (USA) and notes this time as the highlight of her professional life allowing her to travel to various countries, meet like-minded professors and artists and collaborate with them on projects of mutual interest.

Farris comes from a family of literary and visual artists. Once a painter/printmaker, she replaced the brush and roller with a camera. The immediacy of this instrument allows her to capture experiences in the moment as well as to document pieces of social and cultural history. With an artistic eye, scholarly sensibility, and personal interest in the people, events and structures that are the objects of her photography, Farris focuses on imagery that is both educational and aesthetically pleasing.  

Longest Walk, Malcom X Park (1998),  photograph

Currently, Farris is one of 39 artists whose works are featured in the travelling exhibition, The Map Is Not The Territory, Parallel Paths: Palestinians, Native Americans, Irish. I asked Farris to talk about this exhibition, her other work, challenges she faces as a photographer and curator and her opinion on the U.S. media’s representation of Native Americans since the beginning of the 21st century.

Longest Walk II, Speaker on the Capital Grounds  (1998), photograph

As Farris discusses her motivation for participating in The Map Is Not The Territory, Parallel Paths: Palestinians, Native Americans, Irish, she also provides us with insight into social injustices currently experienced by Native Nations throughout the Americas. Cessation of land did not stop with the federal government in the 1830s, but continues even now. Land remains susceptible. History remains vulnerable.

"The theme interested me because of the common experiences of land and language loss experienced by the three populations," she says. "On a personal level, I felt a connection because my mother's maternal grandfather was an immigrant from Cork County, Ireland."  

"Wigwams like this were used by most Algonquin tribes/nations on the east coast. Some were this size and for nuclear families and others were larger to house extended families, like the long houses in upstate New York where many Iroquois live. People no longer live in wigwams or long houses but use them for ceremonies or for villages like this to show how life was during earlier time periods."  

Connecticut on Mohegan tribal land,  a reconstructed village circa colonial times  (2012), photograph

Wigwams are constructed from natural materials and over time are susceptible to structural deterioration. Wigwams on the Pamunkey reservation in Virginia were built for educational purposes but in the 1990s, they expired. The tribe has not yet begun constructing new ones.

Connecticut on Mohegan tribal land,  a reconstructed village circa colonial times – detail (2012), photograph
 

"My mother’s paternal family was originally from the Pamunkey reservation …. The Pamunkey are one of the tribes from the Powhatan Confederacy," Farris explains. The Powhatan Renape Nation in New Jersey had a reservation called Rankokus that also had a reconstructed village with wigwams. When Governor Christie got elected in 2010, he took back the land under eminent domain and the wigwams were destroyed."

"I like the abstract quality of the patterns created by bark and bent saplings used to create the wigwam. The interior darkness and "cozy" feeling that envelopes me is appealing. I am attracted to design patterns in indigenous architecture."

In addition to photographing structures of spiritual and cultural significance to Native Americans, Farris uses photography to document and share stories of cultural survival and contemporary cultural expression. When attending cultural events, she wears two hats, one as participant and the other as observer. For Farris, behaving in an ethical manner while capturing images that are “educational and pleasing to the eye” is of key importance.  

"At cultural events my main challenge is balancing having a good time by dancing in inter-tribals, eating, and buying jewellery and also getting good photos I can use for an article I am writing or for an exhibit. At more serious cultural events like ceremonies I always ask permission before taking photos," she explains.

"These events have similar challenges for being an observer and a participant. I choose imagery based on both aesthetic and cultural significance factors. People at powwows are considered in the public domain so technically permission is not needed to photograph them or publish their images. But usually I try to ask and get their name and tribe but it is not always possible."  

Fancy Dancer, Georgetown University Powwow  (2013), photograph

Farris also attends protests and occupation movements. A social activist, she is committed to “non-violent approaches to dealing with all creative, social and political issues”. At these gatherings, Farris photographs activists who are well-known and those who are not.  

Father Ken and Thundercloud (2012), photograph

Elijah Nature Boy (2012), photograph

The 28th of August 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington led by Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. Camera in hand, Farris was in attendance. "As an activist, I often go to protest marches as a participant and an observer. It was important for me to honor Dr. King's legacy of non-violent resistance by being at the march and by taking this protest shot concerning the unfair Florida “Stand-your- ground- law”, the murder of Trayvon (Martin) and the acquittal of his killer, (George ) Zimmerman."  

Protestor holding Support Trayvon's Law Poster (2013), photograph

Longest Walk II, Harry Belafonte on the Capitol Grounds (1998), photograph

As a scholar, Farris has lectured nationally and internationally and written extensively on themes of identity, gender, and social justice. Within the art world, however, explorations of such topics are not always welcomed. "I face many challenges as a curator and photographer working with themes dealing with identity, gender, and social justice, "Farris expounds. "The art market is driven by fads and money. In the 80's identity politics was a commodified fad so many exhibits focused on women artists and/or artists of color. After the 80's and early 90's these types of shows were less popular. But," she emphasizes, "... the issues remain."

"Capitalism and art venues solely concerned about money never really cared about gender or race issues. They exploited these themes for profit."

"It is 2013 and Native Americans are still dealing with unfair treaties, loss of land, and economic hardship on most reservations. Women around the world, especially in so called "developing countries" are coping with the realities of possible violence (sexual or domestic), balancing child care and work, and finding ways to maintain traditional customs that are beneficial for their societies while at the same time transforming or ending traditional customs that are harmful to their health and well-being. Pollution and climate change will affect everyone in the world but poorer people and countries will be more affected. So I do not think social justice themes for art are outdated. But convincing funding sources is not easy."

Dr Phoebe Farris’ documentary photography is visually and intellectually captivating. While the viewer is first attracted by the aesthetics of the image, a closer look reveals more. We are provided a social commentary that is both rooted in history and applicable now.

One aspect of this social commentary is identity politics and representation. When asked to speak about the U.S. media’s representation of Native Americans, Farris notes, "I see hardly any progress at all. There is almost no representation, good or bad. When the media focuses on so called minorities/people of color/disadvantaged/underrepresented etc. the focus is usually on African Americans, Latinos/Hispanics,

and sometimes Asians. Mainstream media basically ignores Native Americans. The only exception is PBS TV programming which often has excellent programs about Native history and culture."

----
* The Map Is Not The Territory, Parallel Paths: Palestinians, Native Americans, Irish will travel from 2013-2018.


Yvonne Swahn

Indeed we cannot imagine how a mind could paint. It is by lending [her] body to the world that the artist changes the world into paintings. 

- Maurice Merleau-Ponty ( “Eye and Mind.” The Primacy of Perception)

Yvonne Swahn is a painter whose abstract art reflects movement. Her works take the viewer on a journey that incite mental and physical reactions. And though her work is often discussed in relation to poetry, there is another dimension that encourages movement through time and space.

My first experience with Yvonne Swahn’s art was a few months after my move to Sweden. Swahn was preparing for a studio move, the first in 15 years. The studio that she was preparing to leave was at one time a mental hospital, which would soon provide housing for immigrants. It came as no surprise that moving was the topic of our conversation.

During the early part of her career Swahn focused on graphics. Today, her aesthetic is a cross between Jackson Pollock and Cy Twombly combined with a bit of mixed-media practices. Her visual dialogue expresses passages through time and memory. Her art also suggests that navigating through abstract spaces has the ability to generate multiple sensory and cognitive meanings. Swahn states, “In my mind, I am getting on a train that will not stop. And this was a genuine feeling that I had; I was getting on a train that had been running all the time…” This analogy best describes Swahn’s creative process.   

LivBoy ( 2012-2013), mixed media

LivBoy (2012-2013), mixed media

Livboy is a profound example of the train metaphor. The viewer is encouraged to move around the space thus alluding to the idea of travelling. The texture on the doughnut shaped sculpture resembles train tracks. Tags encompass the entire work. These remind the viewer of ribbons that are tied to luggage so travelers can distinguish their belongings. The piece is created by wrapping carpet gauze around old clothes. This references packing prior to travelling, but also represents the complexity of her work. She comments, “My works are portraits, but not in the traditional sense because they are portraits of my mind. I always have a feeling that I am heading somewhere far away.”  Experiencing Swahn's work is a journey. Each piece symbolizes a voyage.   

Molnet  (2012), mixed media

Molnet (2012), mixed media

Molnet is a white textured, entangled, oval object that is suspended in air. Again, the viewer is encouraged to walk around this organic yet methodically constructed work. Molnet awakens childhood memories of cloud watching. At that moment, the viewer is transported back in time to an age of innocence and imagination.   

Lockande Sammanhang is a heavily layered work that incorporates shades of dark blues, bright reds, and black undertones. You immediately feel the artist's passion when looking at this piece. The canvas is covered with scratches, splotches, and specks of gold. The complex center is smeared with yellow and gold hues. White traces blend with red smudges creating shades of pink. Swahn’s unique application of the gold colored metal in this work creates an almost shattered mirror effect. As you move around the piece, reflections of self surprisingly appear.

Lockande Sammanhang  (2012), oil on canvas

Lockande Sammanhang (2012), oil on canvas

Swahn’s process is a bit unpredictable. The pieces begin to take on a life of their own through a unique call and response action between the work and the artist. Swahn states, “I start with a spot here and there but I am not sure where the spots will lead me, so there becomes an interplay between me and the [work]. Most of the time it continues and when I think I am done,  I realize I am not near done, so I destroy [the work] and the process continues and when it is really hopeless it starts to grow [into] something that is very important and from that point the picture emerges.” Similar to Lockande Sammanhang, Främmande Mark exemplifies the relationship between the artist and her canvas.   

Främmande Mark is another heavily layered painting. It appears a bit weathered, rusted, or even antiqued, andengages the viewer like an old friend. The color palette is warm and inviting with hues of gold, yellow, black, blue, white, and copper. The canvas is covered with smudges, scratches, splatters, and drips. Each of the gestural actions reflects how Swahn physically places herself into the work. While contemplating each stroke, the viewer has the opportunity to experience Swahn’s energy and share her journey.

Främmande Mark  (2012), oil on canvas

Främmande Mark (2012), oil on canvas

Yvonne Swahn’s art takes on a life of its own and engages with the viewer. The involvement between the viewer and the artwork stimulates a physical and emotional reaction. Physically navigating around the work evokes a passionate response that is followed by a journey through past experiences, present conditions, and future dreams.  


Tony Phillips


The object of art is not to reproduce reality, but to create a reality of the same intensity.  

- Alberto Giacometti

Making a living as an artist in 1970s Guyana was extremely difficult. Tony Phillips recalls, “private and commercial art galleries were non-existent … so artists relied on their reputation and verbal recommendations for the sale of works.” He says, “Other than being an art teacher at one of the secondary schools, the opportunities were limited for artists.”

Despite the difficulties, Phillips was a well-known and highly respected artist. His reputation led to a career-altering opportunity. The British owned and operated Barclays Bank DCO in Georgetown, Guyana was undergoing renovation. The architect in charge of the project, Hugh McGregor Reid commissioned Phillips to “enliven” the bank’s interior dome by creating a painting “of relevance and suitable subject matter.” The mural was conceived to beautify the building, educate the public, and honour those of distinction within Guyanese history.

Phillips quickly realised that he required assistance. So, he asked fellow Guyanese artist Stanley Greeves to join him. Phillips and Greeves chose “eight historical characters from varying eras of Guyana’s history.” Together they completed The Builders in 1974.   

Reflecting on this project, Phillips comments that receiving the contract and successfully completing the mural has been one of the highlights of his career. On a personal level, he is heartened by the fact that the mural “is guaranteed to stand up for 100 years for many generations to enjoy including [his] own children.”

Once The Builders was completed, Phillips was commissioned to do another large scale piece, entitled the Miracle of Demeter – a tribute to King Sugar. At the end of this project, he moved his young family from Guyana to Australia.   

The Cake Shop (2005)

The Cake Shop(2005)

Phillips’ paintings consist of figurative studies, portraits, floral subjects, and nostalgic drawings of Guyana.   

Brian  (2009), oil on canvas

Brian (2009), oil on canvas

To date, he is the only painter ever invited to exhibit at Australia’s largest national orchid show. In 2012, his painting, The Floral Double Pink Rose received an award in the category of best “professional artist”.   

Me-My-Shadow   (2003), oil on canvas

Me-My-Shadow  (2003), oil on canvas

Phillips is inspired by nature as evidenced by the above painting. He meticulously represents the delicacy, complexity, and strength of the petals.   

The Imputation of Judas  (2012), oil on canvas

The Imputation of Judas (2012), oil on canvas

As a realist, he is also inspired by the works of Peter Paul Rubens, Jacques-Louis David, and Francisco de Goya. Aside from nature, his subject matter includes people, places, and historical events.

Phillips’ artistic accomplishments are many and varied. He is an award winning painter, a designer, a manufacturer of art equipment, and a soon to be author. Currently, he is writing a book on his first major commission tentatively titled, The Dome.   


Carolina Mayorga

 

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.

- Aristotle

Carolina Mayorga’s art is striking, captivating, poignant, thought provoking, and often humorous. As an artist, who provides visual commentary and critique on human issues that transcend geographic boundaries, her art is also essential.

Mayorga was born in Colombia and grew up during “a time of exacerbated violence”. No place was safe. No one was safe. Violence was constant and far-reaching. Her recollections of this time are not just facts and events but are sensorial memories which include feelings, perceptions, and behaviours.  Mayorga’s earlier work often explored themes of war and displacement. Site-specific installations and video pieces called attention to the lives of victims, often children, impacted by crises. Through installations such as The Displaced , Orphans, and Snow Clock and video pieces such as La Visita, Mayorga invited the visitor to experience the despair, loss, and hopelessness of these silenced victims. She captures the rapidity in which family life went from normal, happy, and loving to unforeseeable heart-breaking devastation.  

Mayorga relocated to the United States 15 years ago to attend graduate school. At this time, the artist underwent a change in identity. No longer living in the country of her birth, she was now an immigrant in a foreign land. As an artist interested in social and political themes, Mayorga began examining issues of identity and otherness. To that end, she frequently uses her own image “as an interpretation of cultural, ethnic and gendered stereotypical identities”.   

Untitled- from the series Divine Revelations (2012), photo

Untitled- from the series Divine Revelations(2012), photo

One of her most recent photographic series is Divine Revelations. This series of self-portraits is inspired by the depictions of the Madonna in Italian Renaissance art. In preparation for this work, Mayorga traveled to Spain and Italy in 2009 and 2010 where she visited museums, palaces, and churches to examine the Madonna. She states that the Madonna del Granduca and Madonna and Child by Raphael inspired some of her compositions.   

In a recent performance piece, Maid in the USA, the artist provides a commentary on stereotypes and the roles that are “often attributed to immigrants of Hispanic origin.” In Maid in the USA, Mayorga, wearing a traditional Colombian Cumbia dress and holding a broom, cleans the performance site. She worked a seven hour shift as part of the performance. Her work sheds light on the very real and endemic stereotypes in U.S. mainstream media of women whose ancestral roots are in Latin America. While there has been much criticism of Hollywood’s continued portrayal of stereotypical roles, they persist. One famous, recently deceased, U.S. actress of Mexican descent estimated she had been cast as a maid over 150 times.   

Detail of performance at the Corcoran Gallery of Art ( 2012), photo

Detail of performance at the Corcoran Gallery of Art (2012), photo

Whether a site-specific installation, performance, photographic, or video exhibition, visitors are expected to interact with the work. Mayorga’s art is intersubjective. The visitor becomes part of the work.

Maid in the USA  (2012), mixed media

Maid in the USA (2012), mixed media

Mayorga is a keen observer of her surroundings. She draws inspiration from everyday life, her bicultural experience, and her upbringing. It is fitting that her artistic influences include Barbara Kruger, Marina Abramović, Edward Kienholz, William Kentridge, and Louise Bourgeois. While Mayorga does not consider her work as a form of activism, she states “I definitely have a message I want to convey. ... I’m only presenting the issues. I pose questions and leave them open to interpretation.“   


Alesol


I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, "This is what it is to be happy."     

- Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Like contemporaries Michel Keck and Devon E. Sioui, Alesol is a self-taught artist. She was born in Brazil but has lived in Germany for the past 19 years.

The Prince  (2012), oil on canvas

The Prince (2012), oil on canvas


One of Alesol’s earliest artistic memories is drawing on a wall inside her grandmother’s home. This act of artistic expression may have brought about chidings in some households; however, Alesol’s grandmother praised the drawing and the drawer. She proudly showed the penned vase and flower sketch to visitors. Her granddaughter was an artist. Having the approval of her grandmother gave Alesol the needed encouragement to continue her artistic exploration.

Upon moving to Germany, Alesol’s art expanded. The experiences of living among diverse populations in two different countries fuelled her desire to communicate. Her means of communication is painting. Alesol’s reason for painting is simple. She wishes to “express good energy and speak from her heart”. Fortunately for the viewer, this goal is achieved.

Rainbow   (2013), oil on canvas

Rainbow  (2013), oil on canvas

Alesol receives inspiration from traveling and is a keen observer of her surroundings. As an abstract artist, she seeks the essence of natural forces and phenomena. In Rainbow, the interplay of the colour spectrum is strikingly translated upon the canvas. 

Enchanter( 2011), oil on canvas

Enchanter(2011), oil on canvas

Alesol speaks of painting in a spiritual way. At times, she feels as if an outside force guides her hands. When viewing one of her works, it is as if a personal inner wall has been breached. The symmetry and vibrancy of colours transcend the canvas and interacts with the viewer. 

Waterfall  (2012), oil on canvas

Waterfall (2012), oil on canvas

For Alesol, each breath taken is not solely a function of biology, but a unifying act linking humanity. Nature in its grandeur and diversity inspires her. Her paintings have an ethereal quality. She skillfully taps into the essence of magnificence whether a surging waterfall or the radiance of a rainbow after a thunderous storm. The viewer is gingerly engulfed in a familiar and calming space. 

 


George Hallett


George Hallett is an author, book designer, and award winning photographer. In 1995, he won a Golden Eye Award for the following photograph.

Cheering at Athlone Stadium

Cheering at Athlone Stadium

In February 1994, Hallett dreamt that he lunched with Nelson Mandela. The idea of meeting Mandela was thrilling. Yet, he found one aspect troublesome. He recalls, “One disturbing thing about the dream was the fact that our chairs were all balanced on the hind legs. I went to Madame Keltum in Paris for an interpretation. She … proceeded to tell me that yes indeed, I would be meeting with Mandela and the reason why the chairs were balanced on their hind legs, was because of violent instability in the country.”

A few weeks after the dream, Hallett received a call from his friend Dr Pallo Jordan. The initial steps to the dream’s fulfilment began taking shape. Jordan, who served as South Africa’s Minister of Arts & Culture from 2004 to 2009, asked Hallett to return to South Africa and photograph the country’s first Democratic Elections. So, he departed Paris and returned home.

On Phone with Domestic Worker

On Phone with Domestic Worker

Hallett describes an early encounter. “Mandela was rehearsing for his first TV debate with then President De Klerk. … After an hour or so of hard work, Mandela asked for a break outside in the fresh air. I followed him outside. A woman came up to him with a phone and said it was President De Klerk. … He stands there and tells De Klerk that he should stop the violence as soon as possible because of the looming elections around the corner. ... A domestic worker with something in her hand approaches from behind. Frame and shoot. She does not see his face. He hands the phone back to the receptionist. Then peace is shattered with women shouting and running towards him. I lift my Leica M3 and manage to get the shot a split second before they touch him. Shortly after that we are inside again having lunch. The dream came true.”

When photographing Mandela, Hallett worked with two cameras, “one for close-ups of his face, another to get the surroundings.” He explains, “When photographing the positive aspects of humanity, it is important to include the social surroundings of people. Be that a street scene, an interior, a stage setting or a portrait.”

Madame and Monsieur Foress

Madame and Monsieur Foress

Hallett has photographed a wide array of people in a number of countries. Despite the vastness of his oeuvre, there is a connecting thread. In each photograph, he skilfully captures the humanity of his subjects.

Italy H

Italy H

He delights in photographing people without them being aware of his presence. He is the proverbial “fly on the wall”.

Slate Mine Worker

Slate Mine Worker

In addition to people, he has always been fascinated by architectural forms and textures. In some photographs, he combines being “the silent observer” with his love of structures.

Hallett says, “Coming from South Africa, I have learnt to be humble and generous with my dealings with people.” This leads to photographs that are pure. They are without judgment or staging. The viewer is presented with unadulterated humanity be it the hardships of life or moments of respite.

Farm Workers

Farm Workers

One such moment of rest is captured in one of Hallett’s favourite photographs, Farm workers. He states, “My grandparents ended up on this farm after being evicted from their house in the fishing village of Hout Bay by the Apartheid regime because the village became a Whites only residential area. I went to visit them one Saturday and as I walked up the path I saw the farm workers sitting under the oaks having a break. On the right were a loving couple. The man with the beard was Italian and he took care of the vineyards. His girlfriend went to junior school with me. The relationship was illegal and they could not care a s..t about that. I waved and focussed my Mamiya 6x6cm camera on them, thus capturing a rare moment of a loving and caring group of workers that no one even bothers to acknowledge.”

A couple years later, District Six became the target of the Apartheid regime. As a newly declared Whites only area, over 60,000 people were forced to leave their homes. Encouraged by two friends, the poet James Matthews and artist Peter Clarke, Hallett began recording the life of this community before the bulldozers arrived.

While engaged on this project, he was introduced to The Sweet Flypaper of Life, a collaborative work by Roy DeCarava and Langston Hughes. In this book, DeCarava and Hughes explore life within Harlem through photography. Using this as inspiration, Hallett photographed writers, artists, actors, dancers, and musicians. He displayed these photographs in a solo exhibition at the Artists Gallery in Cape Town.

Reflecting on that period, Hallett notes, “As my political insights became more mature, it also became apparent to me that it was time to leave my not so beloved country.” Soon after his first exhibition, he departed South Africa for England.

Kaori on her Wedding Day

Kaori on her Wedding Day

Once in London, Hallett’s artistic skills expanded. He refers to the streets of London as his university. Through Isaiah Stein, a fellow South African exile, he was introduced to James Curry at Heinemann African Writers Publishers. This meeting led to him designing photographic book covers. He then presented his portfolio to the Times Educational Supplement in Fleet Street. Hallett ended up working with the Times for several years doing spreads and covers on a variety of subjects including “education, the Afro-Asian community, Gypsies, Hippies, Coal miners, youth and many other subjects of fascination.”

While living abroad, Hallett’s social circle included many South African exiles. He recalls, “I went to listen to our Jazz musicians at the 100 Club in Oxford Street on Monday nights. There I met more South Africans. The 100 Club was home away from home for us. I immediately began taking pictures of the musicians on stage as well as at home, relaxing with friends and family members.” 

Hallett’s first European exhibition was in Paris in 1971. It was a group show with South Africans Gerard Sekoto and Louis Maurice. Shortly after, he had a solo exhibition in the Westerkerk in Amsterdam organized by the World Council of Churches. He remembers this exhibition as “a glorious occasion.” He remarks that this was the first and last time he experienced such a wondrous vernissage. Both exhibitions focused on his South African work and presented “a positive image of Black people living under the indignities of Apartheid.”

Hallett stresses that many individuals helped him evolve into the photographer he is today. This evolution began shortly after his graduation from high school. He remembers often critiquing the works

of photographer and friend Clarence Coulson. One day, Coulson tired of the comments and shouted ‘If you know so much about photography, why don't you go out there and take your own photos.’ This was something Hallett longed to do but without a camera or the means to purchase one, it seemed improbable.

Coulson sent Hallett to Mr. Halim, the owner of Palm Tree Studio in District Six. Halim gave him an old Leica and instructions on its use. The burgeoning photographer was tasked “into the streets of the Cape Peninsula to photograph whatever [he] wanted.” This experience proved invaluable. Hallett was exposed to different groups of people and learned to negotiate within diverse situations. Despite the difficulties of living under an Apartheid regime, people maintained their humanity. He witnessed acts of kindness in various situations.

Throughout the years, Hallett has created an impressive body of work. He states, “Using my District Six experiences, I was able to always get exclusive shots that the other photographers never thought possible.”