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Archive: Issue No. 37, September 2000

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Claudette Schreuders

Claudette Schreuders

Photo by Anton Hammerl courtesy of Style Magazine

Claudette Schreuders

Claudette Schreuders Belonging 2000
Jacaranda, Jarra and Avocado wood, painted

Claudette Schreuders

Claudette Schreuders
Esmarie 1995
wood and paint
height 65cm

Claudette Schreuders

Claudette Schreuders

Claudette Schreuders

Claudette Schreuders

Claudette Schreuders

Claudette Schreuders
Barbie and Ken

Claudette Schreuders

Claudette Schreuders
Mother and Child 1995
wood and paint

Claudette Schreuders

Schreuders' studio

A feature on an artist in the public eye.

by Sue Williamson

Modus operandi:

Claudette Schreuders creates carved and painted wooden figures that reflect the ambiguities of the search for an 'African' identity in the post-apartheid 21st century. The domain of woodcarving is a contested one for a young, white, Afrikaans woman, but the subtractive process of carving offers a certain lack of control that she enjoys. Her figures demonstrate a hybrid canon influenced by the blolo and colon figures of West Africa, as well as other stylistic input from medieval church sculpture, Spanish portraiture and Egyptian woodcarving. Their stocky bodies, solid stance and staring eyes 'own' space in a very particular way, partly indebted to the shape of the block of wood from which they emerge. Narrative and story-telling are fundamental to the reading of her figures, which is why Schreuders opts to show small bodies of work as sculptural installations, after which the figures are available to be bought individually. Schreuders' figures are essentially modern deities for modern problems, taking with them the blolo figures' potential to 'cure', as well as engaging with issues around foreignness and hostility and the means we use to create a space for ourselves in a perceived 'alien' environment.

Artist's statement:

" I think what I'm interested in is telling stories. It's portraiture, but it's a vehicle for telling a particular story, or the way in which society makes people who they are, or the group against the individual. As soon as you make a figure, it has an identity, and it's immediately a white person or a black person. To me, things aren't that simple in South Africa. Everyone has an identity. And I made three white figures at first. The first one was Lokke and then the Housewife, which was fibreglass, and then the Dominee, which was of my grandfather. And then you start thinking, "but they're all white". That was before I even looked at the colon. And that provided a connection for me in Africa. I like to think of it as desire in a way that makes you want to make things. I don't look for 'authentic African art' to collect. I find that relationship of 'taking' very hard. My whole outlook is obviously western, but if you do research about art, or your own art, you have a whole different way of looking at it. Then you can get back to very basic questions. It's interesting for me to look at portraiture as something where you try and make a person with the idea you have of them, and try and bring in abstract elements, like in African art where they say "this is a beautiful person because he [sic] is complete." So I am interested in making things that are beautiful, and how beauty works."


Schreuders has just shown a new body of work titled 'Belonging' on the FNB Vita Art Prize 2000, along with fellow nominees Terry Kurgan (winner), Berni Searle and Hentie van der Merwe. This work shifts slightly from her earlier body of work, 'Family Tree', in that she is no longer depicting people she knows (family and friends) but rather searching for iconic or archetypal characters that tap into some fundamental human truth. She identifies with the thesis of Herbert Cole, who observes 'the leader', 'the stranger', 'the mother and child', and 'the couple' as such iconic figures, recognisable across cultural boundaries. 'Melancholy', the figure of the man-boy that forms part of 'Belonging', points to red Swahili text inscribed on his stomach. The text, which was printed on a cloth Schreuders purchased in Kenya, translates as "The one who wants you to leave will not tell you so". She states: "I am interested in the idea of hostility, whether it comes from me or other people", underpinning her search for what it means to be 'African'.

Before that:

Schreuders presented a piece entitled Burnt by the Sun on the final 'Unplugged' exhibition at the Market theatre Galleries. It was from this piece, dealing with excess and being 'foreign', that she began to work towards her installation for the FNB Vita Art Prize. The recent New York exhibition of contemporary art from South Africa, 'Liberated Voices', for which she presented pieces from 'Family Tree', earned Schreuders her Vita nomination. In addition to teaching part time in the sculpture department at the University of Pretoria, Schreuders also spent a two month residency in Kenya, during which she produced a seven-foot tall sculpture of their Masai guard, Thomas, which has been installed on the busy Aga Khan walk in Nairobi.

And before that:

Lokke, a piece Schreuders produced when still a student, established a stylistic framework for much of her future work. It depicts a schoolgirl atop a desk, palms upturned in an attitude of utter vulnerability and desperation. She says: "I wanted to make a martyr, or outsider - that kind of religious icon - and put it in a personal, contemporary context. She was a girl in our school who was taunted for her anachronistic hairstyle and unshaven legs. You don't have the control to see when everybody's going to turn on you - it's amazing how that 'pack' instinct works against one person, and how society functions around the idea of someone to blame - the scapegoat. It became a metaphor for the way in which South African society works, or worked at that time - that you will not tolerate someone to not be the same as you. And not just in terms of black or white. "

Schreuders did her undergraduate training at the University of Stellenbosch and obtained her MA degree from Michaelis in 1997. She was selected for 'Earth and Everything', an exhibition of contemporary South African art at the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol, England in 1996 from a body of student work that the curators spotted in Gavin Younge's office at Michaelis. Schreuders was applying to do her MA and the work was there for consideration. She held her first solo exhibition at the Johannesburg Civic Gallery in 1998.

Next up:

Her work on 'Liberated Voices' has led to the offer of a solo exhibition by New York's Jack Shainman Gallery early 2001. Schreuders describes herself as something of a perfectionist, working slowly and indulging in her labour-intensive process, which she sees is quite revelatory in terms of understanding one's intentions and desires. She is currently producing a body of new work for the exhibition, which will include Burnt by the Sun and 'Belonging'.

Curriculum vitae:

Claudette Schreuders was born on February 6, 1973 in Pretoria, South Africa. She matriculated from Linden High School in Johannesburg in 1990, graduated BA(FA) from the University of Stellenbosch in 1994 and obtained her M.F.A. degree from the University of Cape Town in 1997.

2000: 'Unplugged V', Market Theatre Galleries, Johannesburg

'FNB Vita Art Prize 2000', Sandton Civic Gallery, Johannesburg.

1999: 'Liberated Voices: Contemporary Art from South Africa', The Museum for African Art, New York.
1998: Solo show at the Johannesburg Civic Gallery

'Bringing Up Baby: Artists Survey the Reproductive Body', Standard Bank National Arts Festival, Grahamstown. Toured Cape Town and Johannesburg.

'The Art of Describing', Open Window Art Gallery, Pretoria

'Lake Naivasha International Artists', National Museum, Nairobi, Kenya.

1997: ' Unplugged II', Rembrandt van Rijn Gallery, Johannesburg

' Lifetimes: An exhibition of South African Art', Out of Africa Festival, Munich, Germany.

'Michaelis Final Year Exhibition'', Michealis School of Fine Art, Cape Town.

1996: ' Earth and Everything - Recent Art from South Africa'.

Toured Great Britain 1996 - 1997.

Arnolfini, Bristol;

C.C.A., Glasgow;

Firstsite, Colchester, Essex;

Wrexham Arts Centre, Wales.

1995: 'Kaping', Newtown Artspace, Biennale Fringe, Johannesburg

'International Student Exhibition, Hiroshima', Hiroshima, Japan

1994: 'Graduandi Exhibition', University of Stellenbosch Gallery, Stellenbosch
1993: 'South African Environments', University of Stellenbosch Gallery, Stellenbosch
1998: Two month residency in Kenya
1996: Two month residency at Gasworks Studios, London


Postal Address:
PO Box 12639, Hatfield, Pretoria, 0028