Penny Siopis (2005) in response to Sarah Nuttall in the interview “On Painting”, Art South Africa, 4:2, 36
Within the visible spectrum it is the colour red that – through ages and cultures, across geographies and histories, spanning time – has acquired the greatest number of associations. Taking its vacillating meanings from direct and specific human experience, red is sometimes the colour of passion, of guilt, of sin. At other times it may be the hue of anger, fire, violence, revolution. It can adopt the meaning of courage, sacrifice, martyrdom. Red is also the colour of warning. But above all, its most enduring link is to the colour of blood. Blood-red is the evidence of wounding and the experience of trauma. Eyes that are blood-shot are rimmed in red.
The South African artist Penny Siopis (born 1953) has, consistently and with increasing allegorical agency, made the colour red central to her signature. Each new exploration (every successive body of work, regardless of its medium, approach, composition, language, concept, concern) returns to the application of red.
Curated by Brenton Maart, the exhibition Red: The Iconography of Colour in the Work of Penny Siopis (KZNSA Gallery, Durban, South Africa: 23 June to 19 July 2009) examined the artist’s use of this range of pigments over a period of 27 years. Using visceral and explosive key examples from important bodies of artwork, the project analysed the changing meaning of red in South Africa: from the base layer of sexual and grotesque excess from the early-1980s; through the colour of political revolution and fear in the late 1980s, and the colour of fear and xenophobia in the 1990s; to the artist’s more recent application of the colours of trauma and shame.
|In a somewhat questionable marketing endeavour, the Eastern Cape Region has been sign posted, ‘Frontier Country’ and indeed this is what it is. Historically it is the site of the 9 Frontier Wars and much brutal conflict and living here presently can still seem the edge of nowhere by comparison to many major South African metropols. With Grahamstown at the heart of it, it is also a cosmopolitan space not without vestiges of past pain but - like many colonial outposts in a post-colonial time - it is no longer a satellite to an absent motherland, a mere microcosm of elsewhere, but also a world unto itself.
A potential space of intellectual, debate rather than military conflict – geographically isolated from metropolitan trends – a melting pot of many places, a crucible. In more recent history, this frontier space has been a site of culture, of experiment. Home to an annual arts festival, how is it that Grahamstown with a population of just under 140 000 can command so much creative imagination in novels, plays, poetry and art? Frontier, Border, at the end of the world but not about to fall off – merely at a vantage point to observe a view to come.
- Rat Western