03.11.16 – 27.01.17
Dreams are our connection to the subconscious, and when Portia Zvavahera creates work the viewer get a glimpse into her subconscious. A subconscious of love and loss, where the interweaving of emotions, memory and the sublime come alive. ‘What I See Beyond Feeling’ at Stevenson Johannesburg, includes several expansive, bold gestural paintings of lovers in passionate embrace.
Zvavahera’s life-size figures are confined in bold and melodramatic arrangements, that emerge from deep, bruised purple and crimson backgrounds. With an emphasis on expressionism, developed from her training at BAT (British American Tobacco’s) art school in Harare, now known as the National Gallery School of Visual Art and Design, Zvavahera develops layers of nightfall, passions and the sublime. The paintings reveal hidden desires and trance-like visions that exist in the dark, forgettable realm of dreams.
The ephemeral images that appear in this exhibition are an expansion of Zvavahera’s 2015 exhibition, ‘I Can See It In My Eyes,’ that have been developed and transmuted in this rendition. The dreamscapes hold a duality between safety and anguish, bliss and menace, love and loss. I don’t dream much, or more honestly, I barely remember my dreams. When confronted with Zvavahera’s elated and burdened figures, an unease captures me. This disconsolate world of love and lust places the viewer in a realm between the corporeal and the unconscious. Zvavahera has managed to create a demonstrative world that expresses her emotional depth and reflection of intense mood and dreamlike states of consciousness.
Dreams are elusive and often forgotten, moments in which the subconscious comes alive in uncontrollable ways. Elusive as they are, they central to this body of work which relies on the information and images conveyed through dreams. God-like and angelic figures appear between embraced lovers, while ghostly figures appear in the sea of lace garments that drape the figures. Within the dark landscapes, Zvavahera manages to creates a fluid, indeterminate visual language of dreams and the subconscious. Her floating beings in a morbid and dark world are simultaneously bold and unnerving.
In Embraced and Protected in You, the dark background brings the ethereal figures forward and abstracted limbs are tangled in a sea of embroidered and decorative textures. Zvavahera retains the use of embellished and textured surfaces all through her paintings, giving the figures a delicate and angelic feeling. The textured surfaces against the dark background reminds one of love and union in equilibrium with the sinister and dark realm of loss and suffering. The intertwined figures entrenched in deep emotions seem to be moving out of darkness and solace into an embrace of love and connection. A safety and protection of sorts from the haunting moments of dream sweats and nightmares.
In Sacred Vessels, Zvavahera adorns a figure, once again, in a soft, floral and embellished sea of textures. The figure stands out from the bruised dark purple backdrop and her dress comes alive with a haunting and ghostly figure that appears in the delicate threads of the dress. Her solitude is poignant, but the ghostly figure in her dress reminds of our deep desire to be embraced and to connect with others.
Her loss and effortless mark making create a mystique and entice a pleasure in grief and despair that is so common in society. Her body of work, a stream of dreams elated and drenched in love and sorrow stand strong and evoke suppressed emotions. Zvavahera manages foreground the importance of self-expression and repeatedly reminds us of the power of the subliminal world and how it seeps into and changes our consciousness.