30.05 – 06.07.2019
Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning
–Stevie Smith, ‘Not Waving but Drowning’, 1957
Gold-glinting arms outstretched, reaching upward, pleading. Set against the halo of a setting sun, receding into the horizon. Surrounded by the swaying sea, tides of bottle green clinking. Drowned sorrows in the bottom of the bottle. Engulfed, by the soured grapes of papsak propaganda. Lady Skollie’s latest offering, ‘Good & Evil’ at Everard Read’s CIRCA gallery seeks to complicate the binarized notions associated with light and dark, good and evil – beautifully illuminating the sordid underbelly of society through the creation of a personal mythology. Her work speaks to mechanisms of systemic violence against a historically subjugated people whilst reclaiming the new narratives.
On entering the tapered ovular exhibition space, the large-scale works on display are particularly striking. In using Stevie Smith’s Not Waving But Drowning as a point of departure, Lady Skollie invokes a societal indifference to those drowning. Papsak Propoganda III references the poem in its extended title, while visually addressing the politics of consumption. Specifically, the heinous ‘dop’ or ‘tot’ system employed by wine farmers to pay their workers with carafes of sweet wine instead of financial compensation. Many attribute this system, often resulting in alcoholism, to the structurally oppressive apartheid regime. However, the roots of this particular vine go even further back in history.
The history of the ‘dop’ system is visible in the proposed liquor Bill of 1928, which aimed to restrict access to alcohol – specifically to the African and ‘coloured’ populations in the Union. Prohibitionists went up against the wine lobby and lost to an argument that daily drink was merely a tonic necessitated by labour. During this time, constructions of race were intentionally linked to intemperance and drunkenness. The ‘dop’ system was finally outlawed in 1961. However, the effects of this practice, both physiological and associative, are still strongly felt today.
Similarly, Bottle Feeding: Like the Classing Image of the Champagne Flute Tower, Pouring into the Top, Trickling to the Bottom. Papsak Propaganda II shows motifs of the green glass bottle – suckled by severed heads set against a backdrop of a colonial-era ship and imagery synonymous with ‘the rainbow nation’. The textual element of the work’s descriptive label allows an entry point into the aspirant desires and dynamics of class divided by oppressive systems. An overarching feeling left by ‘Good & Evil’ is a sense of disillusionment.
A few of the pieces feature flocks of ostriches – visual signifiers of denialism with their heads rooted firmly in the sand. Cowardice is countered by the presence of shape-shifting trickster, ǀKaggen. A folk figure of the ǀXam people of southern Africa. Both flame-filled mantis and serpentine sky-god, Lady Skollie’s depictions layer Sub-Saharan origin-stories with the fruits of original sin. Creating a concentrated mix of situated meta-narrative to generate a form of contemporary mythology.
Despite all the darkness, she maintains a level of playfulness in her brightly coloured works. Formulated through Lady Skollie’s own take on empowerment, some of the works appear to celebrate aspects of her identity. Visual interpretations of Faldela Williams’ cookbook commemorate the culinary heritage of South Africa’s Cape Malay people. Illustrating that within the structures of oppression, moments of tender resistance prevail. Throughout the exhibition, Lady Skollie uses tongue-in-cheek humour as a lure to delve into deep and murky waters of poignant social commentary and reimagined histories.