Senzeni Marasela’s Theodorah and Other Women is her first solo exhibition since her Fresh residency at the South African National Gallery in 2000. Her understated social bite continues to shine her move towards a personal negotiation of the public space in relation to herself. Discarding the medium of photographically manipulated images, Marasela now explores linoprint.
At first, the white line images on the black background appear to be a rather innocent form of representation. The images range from the absurdly comical to what appears to be archive-like documentation. However, on closer inspection, sinister evocations of gender, religion, public memory and dreams surface.The prints acknowledge the sublime dark space of the ink. The act of cutting away the lino to create the white lines allows symbols of understanding and light to shine through. However, the delicate, gestural lines makes them appear like momentary visions that may be lost again if the murk is stirred.
Untitled (13 Panels) uses 69 images to record the messages her mother, Theodorah, communicated to her while she was growing up. Marasela’s mother was a registered schizophrenic and her experience was relayed between presence and absence, continuity and miscommunication. The icons record pain and happiness in a mesh opened for the viewer’s own associative exploration.In the three-part Theodorah, Marasela inverts the black-white dialogue, using black to embody her mother and white lines to give her form. Her mother’s body is now the vague sublime. The blob-like shape of the black still points to her ambiguous presence. Dotted lines make her seem like a patchwork pull-together, while two strong vertical lines in all three prints slice her body into a triptych. Marasela’s mother has always refused to be photographed and she is depicted hiding her face.
The “other women” in the title refer to Marasela’s public experience and mothering by female icons. Sarah Baartman Remembered records the journey of the icon from her tribe, through Europe, and back to her memorial space in South Africa. The disarming four-part Summit Girls and Virgins emphasises the similarities between strippers in Hillbrow’s Summit club and participators of the reed dance. Maki recalls a news story Marasela saw in her youth about a 14-year-old girl who was necklaced after being suspected of being an informer.
Marasela’s prints display an acute examination of the power of the line. It is not a safe line that designates a separated position for things that don’t relate. Everything is connected — her mother’s presence and withdrawal are part of the same body, as is the public and the personal.
Published by Art South Africa, 1 December 2005