Venturing from the pawpaw and papsak to the prison, Lady Skollie’s work is consistently provocative and poignant. Her pieces actively revise the stories of people that have been omitted from or distorted by official history. As the recent recipient of the FNB Art Prize her long-standing efforts in representing the spectrum of inequality along contours of gender and race across the South African landscape have been acknowledged through this prestigious award.
However, her career has by no means followed a conventional trajectory. As a self-proclaimed art school dropout she notes that despite this, her journey as an artist has been on a “fast-forward” track. Which in many ways reflects the intensity with which she works. “It feels nice to be validated, within a space that is fundamentally made up. Like I always joke and say, ‘fine arts is make believe’, but it is in so many ways, but it’s also not. There is a need and want sometimes to be validated, so that’s what it gave me.” In spite of Lady Skollie’s often critical attitude towards the art world and its institutions, she is astutely aware of the kind of cultural currency this accolade holds. She was selected for the prize by a panel of industry experts including curator Khwezi Gule, columnist Aspasia Karras and art fair manager Nicole Siegenthaler.
Often moments of recognition inspire reflection. In contemplating her career milestones Lady Skollie proudly notes that being commissioned to design the five rand coin in commemorating twenty-five years of South African democracy last year, was another turning point in her career. “I had done other things that I’m very proud of and that got me respect before, but the coin thing was on another level. So I know this will be on another level”. Similarly, her latest award will undoubtedly further progress her practice into the stratosphere of success. Part of the prize includes a cash prize and international residency. The residency is a relatively new aspect of the award, one which aims to support the careers of African artists.
Residency programmes often serve as a means for artists to temporarily relocate to a new environment – allowing opportunity to engage with new communities through cultural exchange. The location of the residency is yet to be confirmed, but pandemic permitting will occur sometime within the next eighteen months. Lady Skollie is particularly excited by the prospect, musing that “maybe it will unleash something else in me.” As an artist whose work draws distinctively on a South African context, it will be interesting to see what a shift in location has to offer her.
In a year defined by isolation and displacement for many, the crisis of Covid 19 has affected the traditional art fair format. FNB Art Joburg has pivoted towards a digital platform for this year’s installment. In a moment coloured by pixels and clouded by content, Lady Skollie has found herself contemplating the differences between this year and last. She notes, “There is a different energy for me from last year, which has been interesting for me to see…there is this weird thing now, does what you do matter at a time like this and where does it matter? What does art mean in a time like this?”
Her latest body of work explores isolation through the lens of women in captivity, specifically the histories of convict-slaves in the Cape. The site of her exhibition is significant. ‘Bound’, situated at the Cape Town Everard Read Gallery, is adjacent to the Breakwater Prison and tunnel beneath Portswood Ridge which leads to a dungeon. Lady Skollie is particularly interested in the hidden sordid histories of the Mother City. The show speaks to the absence of freedom for contemporary women, who like their historical counterparts, are chained by shackles of patriarchal oppression and systemic racism.