Rites of Passage- a journey into darkness

Rites of Passage

‘Rites of Passage’ is an interpretation of my personal experience. The questions that arose from this experience correspond directly to the effects of a dysfunctional society, as well as to the effects of my own dysfunctions.

A Rite of Passage usually denotes a major change in one’s life, tied up with a number of often contrasting and confusing emotions. A certain amount of pain and discomfort is an inevitable part of the process of maturation and growth, and the official opinion seems to be that we can, under normal conditions, cope with and assimilate such growing pains. But just exactly what constitutes normal conditions?

I believe that the line between ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ is blurred at best and indistinguishable at worst, as each individual experiences emotion differently.

What is traumatic for one person might be less so for another.

Yet there is an unspoken consensus that when trauma exists, coping and assimilating becomes either a lifelong task or a permanent wound in the psyche.

Victims of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse are forced to undergo a distorted Rite of Passage, and in the case of children usually long before it would have occurred ‘naturally’. The damaging effects of such trauma are indisputable. What I am querying is our responsibility, or lack thereof, as individuals and a society, towards such children: Should they be helped, can they be helped, will they be helped?

Is their premature loss of childhood innocence a hurt that will never be healed no matter how many well-meaning sponsors get involved? Are the wounds of life there for a purpose, and must therefore be endured?

Are the perpetrators of abuse merely victims of their own unresolved trauma? At which point in the cycle should the need for accountability arise?

Do you hold yourself accountable for your own dysfunctional actions?

The monstrosity of what human beings are capable of is not something I can or want to judge. I can only observe the ongoing negation of each and every one of the ideals that supposedly elevate us to an “advanced” level of evolution. The distortion and abuse that revered ideal such as ‘love’ ‘respect’ ‘truth’ ‘goodness’ etc. suffer from, as evident in the massive occurrence of abuse, murder, rape, theft, corruption, and divorce, suggests rather that humanity, despite its delusion of advancement throughout the ages, still prefers to adapt these ideals to its behaviour  rather than its behaviour to the pursuit of ideals.

 

Excerpt from a review of the exhibition by John Sampson:

The Silke Berens exhibition, “Rites of Passage” at the Omba Gallery is a disturbing show. The title is an immediate hint that this is not your run-of-the-mill themed showing of pleasant works. The theme of this exhibition is quite the opposite, dealing as it does with child-abuse, not a popular area of focus.

But artists are not immune to the aberrations in society and it behoves them to comment on the ruptures in our moral/ethical structures, and the value systems that should be cultivated in our homes and families. It is precisely in this so-called comfort zone that children are abused, and Silke Berens speaks about this in her work.

Good exhibitions, invariably, speak to one at the visual level, this one does that, but more so, it sits in the throat, because it makes no excuse for its confrontational aspects. Child-abuse must be confronted. Perpetrators must be apprehended. And society requires a cleansing mechanism. An artist working to expose the underbelly of our society does precisely that, but in a manner that draws on more than the psychologist’s intervention.

Images, pictures, are stark reminders of our troubled psyches, whether we want to admit that much or not. And if we do, then we have to accept the gauntlet that has been thrown down.

Berens has been intimately associated with this painful subject, having worked with children, whose futures have been fractured by the monsters that lurk inside many of us. She chooses to bring the issue nearer through the clever use of style, together with a few more approaches that appeal to those with a deep-seated yearning for content at a different level. The style is intentionally childlike. The images of children seem as if drawn by a child. It has the quality of the amateur, and that is by intent, not by accident. One is struck by the fact that the children in the works do not take up bold central positions as forthright confident children living through a happy phase in the process to adulthood. These children are shying away to the edges, to the periphery, trying to avoid. Trying to avoid what? Trying to avoid more of the same. There is an intrinsic knowing that all is not right.

The pictures have been hung much lower than would normally be the case to once again associate the work with the child’s place in the maturation process. And the titles have been chosen to indicate the average height of adults. In the case of the children depicted one wonders whether anything in their adult lives would indeed be average. That would be a start, at least. It is far too simple to speak of a dysfunctional society, when, in fact, it is not society that is so affected, but our families. Society consists of dysfunctional families and individuals, and they are the ones imposed on all of society. And the figures in the Berens works, well….like we hear so often these days; they are seen as collateral damage!  The most vulnerable seem to suffer the most.

The use of colour, or the lack thereof, also speaks of a considerable amount of introspection in planning this portfolio. There is no fun embarking on such works, and any artist doing so, is confronted himself/herself by the stark an inevitable reality of the burden of responsibility. This is evident in the Berens exhibition.  It is a responsibility that rests on both the artist and the viewer.

The format of the works is appropriately small to once again draw attention to the young victims of uncaring and unhinged adults. Anything bigger would have rendered the works impersonal; anything smaller would have made it all disappear. It is when an exhibition of artworks confronts us with the joys and perverseness of society that an artist succeeds as a commentator on society. The gratuitous presentation of aestheticism, at the retinal level, is often, all that a body of work is capable of doing. In this exhibition the artist has

gone beyond the usual expectations and that accounts for this being an admirable body of work at both an aesthetic level and social level. It should be seen by everyone who has the welfare of the child at heart.

john@kerahdah.com.na

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Featured artist- Johann Louw

My development as an artist features several influential artists, the most instrumental among them my painting lecturer Johann Louw. During the two years that he guided my student efforts, I learnt how to handle criticism, believe in my style, and to know what great painting looks like by his example. Plus he was funny, in a dada kind of way as we often didn’t get his humour…only now do I fully appreciate his quirky and irreverent character!

He has since achieved international success, with a string of solo shows at leading South African Galleries, as well as shows in New York, Germany, and Australia. His paintings are powerful and layered statements , impacting on many psychological and emotional levels. I find them hypnotic, disturbing, mind-altering- a great muse!!

http://www.johannlouw.com

All images copyright Johann Louw

 

Art Month International. Yeah how grand does that sound!? Two participants so far, let’s see if we can start a trend here!

Day one getting off to a good start, terribly precious and uptight though, wanting it all to turn out good and useable and showable. Meh. Have to work hard at keeping the quality demon muffled. The goal is just to release, to engage fully with The Flow by not getting overly in the way…

Sending sunny spirit to all NaNoWriMo participants 🙂

Will post pics every three days. Demon or not.

‘Being’ Oil on Canvas 2010 Silke Berens

Commission blues

It sits on my easel, in shades of blue, and elicits a daily quota of sighs. Some are listless, most are downright depressed.

I swear to myself that one day I will be confident- or successful, does confidence come with success?- enough not to have to endure this horrible exercise in creative frustration. The curved horizon is a problem apparently, but I’m not far enough into the work to be able to give that particular suggestion the middle finger… I feel stifled, controlled, stopped in my flow.

To think I was excited at the start of it- a trade for a painted lounge, a long neglected form of avoiding the pitfalls of a cash oriented society; my hippy alter ego proud and singing songs of peace and liberation.

Until the demands set in. No not like that, more like this, must work with coral red wall etc etc . I’m told by more assertive artists that I should stick to my guns or rather my brushes, and provide a clear message of what you get is what you get- trusting The Artist to get it right without questioning or interference. But hey, I want the client to be happy, and tell his friends, so I’m willing to compromise. There’s always my more serious work to express  my unique genius with, I try to console myself.

Still I rebel against the external censorship.  I wonder if my students feel like this when I comment on their  work.

I should count myself lucky that there’s no urgent deadline to this deal, but on second thought it would force me to make decisions and just get on with it- stoicism can also lead to liberation! Go Wall Street go. I’ll take my cue from you Bravehearts all over the world and march on.

Featured artist- Imke Rust

Imke and I theoretically live in the same city, although she’s recently forsaken sunshine and wide open spaces to spend time in Berlin, following her heart and her art 😉

I miss having her around to talk shop and bemoan the struggles encountered in our local art scene. Imke makes a mean vegetarian chilli, and is the most even-tempered artist I know. I suspect this trait has got her further in her career than a lot of the more moody and outrageous artists out there, and boy those still waters do paint some dark depths!

She’s a very talented artist who’s had a lot of success already, and she’s only getting better and going bigger. A gallery in Berlin will be hosting her next exhibition in 2012. Yay!

Check out her site:  imkerust.com

For WillieWhite Despair (The Funeral)m_Dying OwlBaobab Tree

All artwork by Imke Rust

When art Wakes Up

Last week, after having watched the stirring BBC documentary on Picasso’s Guernica, one of my more intense young men in the Visual Articulation and Drawing course at university (UNAM) had a seeming epiphany. Eyes all fiery with indignation at the injustices committed by man against man (and woman and child), he voiced his determination to create Art with a Purpose. But a few minutes into the discussion about art, politics and Modernism, he visibly faltered in his resolve, tripped up by the concept of Beauty: How do I know something is beautiful? And can I make something that is both beautiful, and has the power to change people’s perceptions? How can people like and buy art that I consider bad?

To fully appreciate this situation, you must know that most of the students in this Visual Arts department come from a dysfunctional third world schooling system, and struggle to write and speak more than a pretty basic English. How they gain admittance to a tertiary educational institution is a mystery to me. But hey, this is Africa. We wing it mostly, we’re dismally short on good museums and galleries, and when kids show determination and a willingness to work, we are excited and grateful.

Well, it got interesting. For a generation whose role models are Rihanna (yes, the US of A is ever present even in deepest Africa), Kanye West, and hip hop culture, it’s a stretch of the imagination to appreciate, let alone understand, the twists and turns of art history. And when we get to Picasso’s mangled forms, they find it hard to reconcile their standardized cultural tastes with such aberration. Yet Guernica managed to get under some skins, especially since the history of Namibia and South Africa is not short of injustices of many kinds…

Eventually we agreed that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, yet truly great art transcends subjective taste and achieves value beyond aesthetic achievement. I’ll spare you the long of it, as it’s a discussion I believe that can last a lifetime. What excites me is that this young student- hopefully multiples of him or her- cannot now go back to his previous views on the world and art, and more specifically, the purpose of his art. He must move forward from this point, and I’m proud and moved that I was around when he woke up.

What is your take on this topic? All comments welcome…

I’ll keep you posted on the young revolutionary’s progress 😉

Scenes from the Historical Event at Guernica during Spanish Civil War

Info about Guernica: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guernica_(painting)

gathering momentum

As summer approaches in the southern hemisphere, my creative counsellor aka The Boyfriend nudges me yet again to take another step towards a long-missing acknowledgement: That I am, in fact, an artist with a voice. A voice that needs to share, encourage, explore, and heal. We are all to some extent suffering from a lack of confidence and self-belief, and nowhere can that be more poisoning than in the creative fields. Yet the power of others’ creative achievements has propelled me forward countless times, as has their critical input towards my own art. Hence my decision to enter the web community, so that I may become a more fully functioning participant in that beautiful exchange of energy which has the potential to change the world, one artist at a time.

 

“Diaz Point” Oil on Canvas 1998

Artist: Silke Berens

Diaz Point is at the coast of perhaps the most desolate town in the whole universe: Lüderitz was built on the discovery of diamonds in the desert at the end of the 19th century; today it has a small fishing industry and some offshore diamond mining vessels keeping it alive. I spent a few years living there, entranced by the feeling of complete exposure to the extreme elements existing between desert and ocean. That’s me on the rickety old bridge fighting the constant, merciless wind…

For more info on Lüderitz, please visit:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%C3%BCderitz