Archive: Issue No. 81, May 2004

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Thea Soggot

Thea Soggot
Magaliesburg mud and charcoal on paper

Photograph: Geoff Sifrin

Thea Soggot makes images of Eve immortal and iconic
by Robyn Sassen

Looking at the exhibition currently on show at Gallery Momo, it's hard to believe that there is so much one-upmanship around technology and polemic in visual arts these days. Thea Soggot, arguably one of South Africa's most sophisticated and talented contemporary draughtspeople, hasn't shown her work locally for a while. However, the quality and calibre of her drawings of Eve make it worth the wait.

In the pristine spaces of the gallery, more than 20 of her drawings are on display. With a pastel background cast in a velvety thickness, these visceral forms, almost abstract in their cropped focus, differ subtly from one another, and yet the show is not repetitive or trite, rather it is immortal and primitive, in a noble, ancestral way.

Working in the unusual media of black pastel and Magaliesburg mud on paper, Soggot's explorations of the beauty and structure of the female head and torso are beguilingly simple to behold, and overpoweringly iconic because of this. Her line work is enriched by the wetness of the mud, which is applied with sensitivity and refinement. A streak of yellow ochre holds a form together, but on perusal, it becomes a muscle, the features of a face or a spinal column.

Soggot's drawings, and her choice of media and subject matter, feed poetically into radical feminism, yet the patent magnificence of her drawings rejects a stereotype linked to this ideology. Her meditations on the female body are sensitive and intimate and depart from the sexually explicit or confrontational. Any relation the work might bear to radical feminism is sublimated by the iconic compositions, the careful detail, the delicate strength of the line-making and the watered down sand that hold these muscular female structures together with conviction and skill.

This is an exhibition about bare, base materials and the consummate skill of the artist to turn them to gold. It is here that Soggot challenges the mythical Eve concept with the tools and visual language she has used for many years. The human torso, with its intricacies and its intimacies becomes a landscape, a plateau beneath which are found subtle yet powerful machinations. The use of earth constitutes a visual and conceptual pun which is as satisfying to behold as it is philosophically meaningful.

Ultimately, this exhibition affirms that despite the passing of the modernist era, drawings made beautifully still have the power to outshine fads.

Opens: April 22
Closes: May 16