Marlise Keith going places
When a “boeremeisie” like Marlise Keith returns from Paris after a sojourn at the Atelier des Arts, the artistic imagination is bound to unfold and manifest itself in a spectacular visual narrative. This has indeed been the case, and from 24 April to 24 May the Worldart gallery in Commissioner Street, Johannesburg, will be hosting Keith’s exciting solo exhibition, showing how the psyches of contemporary women are examined in her latest work.
This event could be described as a follow-up to her highly successful exhibition “Kners” at Cape Town’s AVA in 2007, where the underlying beauty and horror of everyday life constituted the core of her work. Art lovers were fascinated by her strong, imaginative approach, which may be one of the reasons why all the works were snapped up in no time.
In “Afrikanerdogters sukkel suutjies” (“Afrikaner daughters and their secret struggle”), Keith reworks the multifold, simultaneous and confusing inner and outer realities experienced by young women of today. Despite the reference to “Afrikanerdogters” and the fair sprinkling of familiar Afrikaner metaphors, the impact and relevance of these paintings extend beyond the confines of any particular group. For it is the rapidly changing and fluid character of identities that she is exploring. Selfhood appears to draw upon an interplay and fusion of various influences, often rooted in agony – stemming not only from the artist’s personal experience, but perceived in the lives of others.
As a result, the works acquire an estranging and almost surreal quality; colourful and dreamlike, though often unsettling, but unmistakably Keith as she manages to find an individual idiom to tie up the past with the present. Hybridity is foregrounded, and with good reason, for Keith has once defined herself as a “baster aster” (cross-bred chrysanthemum), the daughter of a Scotsman who has apparently been “hanging around with the Khoisan” and a mother and grandmothers belonging to a breed of “killer aunts”. She reacts to what is handed out to us at birth; such as the cultural codes and labels which Afrikaner women have to deal with, many of these bearing traces of Calvinism, self-denial and self-sacrifice. In Keith’s world, reminiscences of the traditional “Voortrekkerkappie” (bonnet) lurk under the public display of power-dressing and overt sexuality – while young women continue to suffer exploitation and humiliation under the regime of the womb.
Keith articulates the multitude of voices crying out to be heard, and depicts a new breed of women claiming more space. She shows a marked talent for grasping the bigger picture, presenting it in an original, if pleasantly idiosyncratic language of disparaging images. Small wonder that the work of this young, adventurous artist graces the walls of collectors, galleries and boardrooms in various parts of the world. And having won the Sanlam Vuleka Award in 2006, followed by her nomination as one of the top ten finalists for the ABSA L’Atelier prize in 2007, Keith has proved that there is good reason to regard her paintings as an investment for the future.