Niklas Zimmer has written a nifty essay entitled Absurdist Painting in South Africa which accompanies Lizza Littlewort’s biting (but very witty) new exhibition at 99Loop ‘We Live in the Past’. The essay covers Littlewort’s détournement of old Dutch master painters, the artist’s colonial heritage, “white Saffers, whose understanding of art begins and ends with queueing to see The Night Watch when on holiday in Europe” and the distinction between satire and absurdism. The latter point is particularly insightful:
Bertrand Russell famously stated that “the fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd” (Russell, 2009). This might lead to a definition of works that aim to document or depict a state of collective deception as being ‘realist.’ Yet, according to the literary critic Robert Scholes, absurdist works “resist categorization as realism or fantasy” (Scholes, 2011). While the absurdist mode indeed bears a certain resemblance to that of the satirist, pointing to the inconsistencies, hypocrisies and failings of those in power, it is the author’s positionality that is essentially different: rather than operating along an imagined binary of right and wrong, or more specifically, a charter of values assumed to be common to all, absurdism entirely implicates the painter (author) in the critique, together with her subject and her viewers. This of course makes engaging the work more demanding and less clear-cut than reading a newspaper cartoon, but it certainly also has the potential to raise smiles.
You can read Zimmer’s full essay here. The exhibition is recommended too.