A film to make Vincent turn in his grave

Loving-Vincent-848x478

VAN Gogh’s portrait of Pere Tanguy (played by John Sessions) corrupted into life. Photograph courtesy maturetimes.co.uk

VINCENT VAN GOGH spent 37 tortured years on this planet. He was easily one of the most prolific artists the modern world has seen, but he’s also a key figure in visual culture because he has become emblematic of the popular cliché which reflects on a poor man with oodles of talent holed up in a freezing garret with just his absinthe and his unsellable paintings to keep him company. The story follows the chap to his early sad grave, and then sees his work exploding in value on the commercial sphere. It’s an old story, but it’s also van Gogh’s.

And in being so, has become grist for the commercial mill, which has ground out yet another cliché-ridden, disrespectful extrapolation on van Gogh’s life in the form of Loving Vincent. It clearly did have good intentions, which feel from the outset like a vanity project: but what you see on the big screen is precious and cute; it’s hard on the eye and overall wooden in its narrative.

The story focuses on the possible causes of Van Gogh’s suicide in 1890 and, armed with letter written to his brother Theo, the piece casts a faux historical narrative around a quest for the truth. On a level, it’s like a thriller. Or at least, on paper, it might have read as such. But for a full length movie to feature jagged stop-frame-animation, is a hell of a thing. It’s a migraine-inducing thing which causes you to have to rest your eyes much of the time.

And it’s a total mystery why the makers of Loving Vincent didn’t knock on the door of more seasoned animators. Animation isn’t, after all, a new medium in this world. So what you get is a bumpy, self-consciously artsy ride which makes the actors’ voices feel like voice-overs and which separates character from performance, from spoken words in a way which blatantly bruises the fluidity of the story.

But there’s more. The act of taking a painting and reducing it to a milli-second of filmed time in the name of the telling of an animated story is outrageously disrespectful. For several tiny seconds in this much-too-long film, you get a glimpse of images of the paintings themselves before they were corrupted by this animation project. And the biggest casualty in this is that the work is not about the art. It’s about hypotheses as to why one disturbed man kills himself. The art just becomes an incidental novelty. A crass little cherry on top of a big budget project.

And while we’re talking crass, let’s not forget that the title of the thing is a derivation from how Vincent signed his letters to his brother Theo: Your loving Vincent. The makers of this film could not even respect the intimacy of this complex brotherly love and felt the need to interject their commercial presence in even this.

Vincent van Gogh was the father of a certain type of visual expression. He was not an Englishman. None of the people with whom he fraternised or fought, were English. His is not an English story. And yes, perhaps this film is made for an English speaking audience, but seriously? The range of distinct English accents in this film further blurs over historical veracity or any pretense of it. Had this been in Dutch with English sub-titles, it might have held a modicum of value. Had it even been in English with Dutch and French accents, similarly so. But here, you get nothing.

And as you sit there, feeling irritated by the cloying van Gogh clichés which wash over you with a slick and supercilious resonance, you quietly think, at least they’re not touting that 1971 Don McLean song, Starry Starry Night. But stop right there: it’s there, too, in all its syrupy sentimentality, interpreted by Lianne La Havas in this iteration.

This morass of sickly and superficial Van Gogh adulation does little for an understanding of the artist, his work and his desperate illness which led to his death. And above all, it’s a chore to watch – with an entertainment factor standing way under par.

  • Loving Vincent is directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman and features a cast headed by Bozena Berlinska-Bryzek, Douglas Booth, Josh Burdett, Borys Dominiuk, Kamila Dyoubari, Holly Earl, Jerome Flynn, Przemyslaw Furdak, James Greene, Robert Gulaczyk, Keith Heppenstall, Martin Herdman, Robin Hodges, Cezary Lukaszewicz, Helen McCrory, Chris O’Dowd, Adam Pabudzinski, Piotr Pamula, Graham Pavey, Saoirse Ronan, John Sessions, Anastazja Seweryn, Marcin Sosinski, Bertlomiej Sroka, Joe Stuckey, Nina Supranionek, Bill Thomas, Eleanor Tomlinson and Aidan Turner. It is written by Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman and Jacek Dehnel. Produced by Ivan Mactaggart, it features creative input by Clint Mansell (music), Tristan Oliver and Lukasz Zal (cinematography), Dorota Kobiela and Justyna Wierszynska (editing), Jennifer Duffy (casting) and Dorota Roqueplo (costumes). Release date: February 23 2018.

 

Advertisements

Look at me! Portraiture under the loupe

Portraits

MYSTERY that haunts. Genna and Felix, the winning work by Kate Arthur. Photograph courtesy Sanlam and Rust-En-Vrede Gallery

THEY MOSTLY GAZE back at you, with intent, each from his or her – or their – own vantage point, through the texture of lines drawn or painted in charcoal, pen or oils. Most embody a sense of mystique and a layering of narrative which makes you ponder and which haunts you as you walk the length of the gallery. These are the top 40 works on the Sanlam Portrait Award 2017, judged this iteration by Nkule Mabaso, Peter Monkman and Carl Jeppe, and won by Kate Arthur.

A biennial competition, started in 2013, it’s a celebration of the formality of the genre of portraiture and the finalists represent some brand new names on the art spectrum and some fresh and delightful, intense and focused approaches to the craft of rendering a likeness. By and large, it’s an extremely traditional project, harking back to the values of pre-Realism Europe where the portrait was king and it was assessed along the lines of very clearly determined rules of representation.

And by and large, what you find here are hard-boiled and clear approaches to the genre, with colour, tone and texture that resonates with naturalistic values, and images you can read very easily. It’s a project which overlooks the values that modernism sprinkled liberally onto representational art in all its tropes, corrupting them and pushing them into a state of torsion.

It’s also a project that flies in the face of self-consciously post-modern or post-post-modern self-reflexivity. Further to that, there’s an alarming absence of printmaking techniques or water colour. Were etchings and linocuts banned in the rules? Was there a point prohibiting water-based approaches? While some of the works are drawings, the vast majority are dinkum traditional oil paintings on canvas. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, there seems to be a very thin margin of approaches selected.

There are many stand out pieces, including Marié Stander’s Gifts from Joseph and Maureen, a drawing of a couple in charcoal and ink; Jennifer Ord’s An Instance of Substance, an image which skirts with light and dark with dexterity and cohesion; and Janine Anderson’s First Day at School, in which you can feel the crisp whiteness of the child’s brand new school uniform with your heart.

Ultimately, after perusing the whole collection, you understand why Kate Arthur’s Genna and Felix was deemed the best of them all. The two characters in underwear on a turquoise background, stand their ground provocatively in a way that makes you look. Their presence is unequivocal and their story, clearly involving forays into gender ambiguity and incapacity, is mysterious, but not too much that you lose focus and not too little that you lose interest. In short, it’s a précis, a haiku of narrative mystique. The painting in ‘real life’ is a lot smaller than what you might think, when you see a photograph of it, but the intensity of Arthur’s focus on the two characters sucks you into their souls.

There are also execrable examples of pieces that seem to contradict the overweening aesthetics and focus on skill of the body of work in entirety, and which seem to mischievously challenge the solemn premises of judging an art competition. A mixed couple with crudely crafted limbs in a cartoonish pose by Jacques André du Toit vies so markedly with the aesthetics of the rest of the works, it creates a mystery of its own. And while some portraits feel more like pictures than renditions which reach from the soul of the sitter to the soul of the viewer, in all, the collection is strong and bold, and very worth seeing.

  • Top 40: Sanlam Portrait Award 2017 is at the UJ Art Gallery in Auckland Park, until March 7. 011 559 2090.

He who turns battered pianos into Formula Ones

CharlDuPlessisinterview

TEA with Gershwin: Pianist Charl du Plessis in conversation. Photograph by Robyn Sassen.

HE’S DEVASTATINGLY SUAVE but quietly spoken; he’s funny and earnest at the same time and when he sits at the piano, the world becomes a friendlier place. Meet Charl du Plessis who performs a week-long season at Auto and General Theatre on the Square in Sandton, this week. This Steinway artist who performs with Nataniël and has his own trio is the magic ingredient in any music line up. He recently chatted to My View about the magic of Gershwin, the vagaries of self-promotion and the wonder of straddling jazz and classics, to say nothing of the treasures you can find in a piano’s belly.

Trained classically both locally and abroad, du Plessis’s knack at improvisation is arguably the wizardry that makes his work fly. Nearly 10 years ago, he formed a jazz trio – which today comprises Werner Spies on bass and Peter Auret on drums.

“We started playing the kind of jazz you would find anywhere else in the world. And then something strange began to happen. Over the years in my repertoire, classics and jazz started to merge. More and more. Eventually, I realised I quite like taking classical music and turning it into a kind of jazzy sound, but still keeping the inherent quality of the original classical music. It sort of stimulates both markets.

“Jazz people like it, because they can understand and it opens the doors to classical music for them. And the classical music lovers recognise Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, or Air on a G string by Bach, and all of a sudden it’s new and fresh and they have a smile on their face. I’m not the first person to do something like this, but I have had success with it, and it’s certainly artistically gratifying for me.

“I can play Chopin or Bach, but so can hundreds of other pianists. I like to give the music my own flavour in a sophisticated way so that it is never easy. It is never rommel trommel in the corner of a restaurant kind of thing. It is something distinct, which people like.”

Born and raised in Bloemfontein, du Plessis went to Grey College. After school, he studied piano under Joseph Stanford at Pretoria University and then honed his craft in Texas and Zurich. He returned to South Africa close to 20 years ago.

“The first person who gave me a full time job, back then, was Nataniël, the singer and stage personality; I still work with him. I have learnt so much from him in terms of his unrelenting work ethic. His standards are very high in terms of what he offers his public, always.

“He once said: If you live in a country where you weren’t born, sometimes it’s difficult to really make a contribution because people see you as a foreigner. And this is so true: Even though playing piano essentially has no language, the problem is that there is a matter of being able to contribute a little more. And that’s why I am still here.”

Piano was du Plessis’s first professional instrument. But “when I was little – before my voice broke, I used to sing. So the voice was my first instrument of making music. And then I played piano as well, but not so seriously, and then my voice broke and I was like: ‘Oh hell! What am I going to do now?!’

“I tried to play a bit of organ at university, but the piano was the only thing that really tickled me.”

Being a pianist who also does his own promotion is, he says, extremely difficult, but also quite liberating. “I am not the sort of artist who sits and practises and waits for the New York Philharmonic to phone me. They’ll never phone me because they don’t know I’m alive! But if I phone them, or if I do my own thing and make work for myself, then people are likely to say: ‘Yes, I think I’ve heard of you. Or I think I’ve heard your CD.’ The truth is, these days, it’s every man for himself.”

In 2010, du Plessis was named as Africa’s youngest ever Steinway artist, a status which comes with a responsibility to shine. But du Plessis has done more than shine. He’s given pianos new life, in the most astonishing of ways.

There’s a scene in the 2000 film Billy Elliott directed by Stephen Daldry in which a piano is chopped up into firewood. It’s like watching a murder. Du Plessis concurs. “A damaged piano is like a battered or neglected wife. And the value of a bit of a makeover or a visit to the hairdresser is huge.”

His playing tours all come with a bit of a side-show in which the piano is taken apart. “This developed out of my travels to different concert halls, where sometimes the pianos are in terrible shape,” he says. “I asked Ian Burgess-Simpson, a Steinway-trained technician, to come on board as a doctor who would resuscitate pianos all across the country.”

This healing process was conducted free of charge. “It comprises a tuning – which is like putting petrol into a car – with a full service, which is about going into the machine and replacing stuff, and fixing stuff … and you know what? We’ve had such incredible response from the instruments which were okay – they were satisfactory, and then all of a sudden, they’ve become Formula One racing cars.

“The venues are very happy to have this tour because it benefits them. But how does it benefit the audience? And that is how I thought of the idea of taking the piano apart in front of the audience. When we played in Cape Town for example, one old lady came to me with tears in her eyes. She said ‘I have been a member of this concert club for maybe 15 years. I have never been allowed to see the piano close up. I’ve never even touched it. I’ve never been allowed to go on stage, let alone see the inside.’

“We live in a society in which we can google everything. People don’t like not knowing. They want to open things up and find out how they work. With the piano, I invite people in. I talk, I explain the piece I play, so that it’s not all formal.”

The composer headlining the season at Auto and General Theatre on the Square this week is George Gershwin. “I love him,” Du Plessis is unequivocal. “He’s the universal standard for everyone from jazz saxophonists to opera singers to classical pianists. Gershwin’s one of those guys with one foot in the world of classics, one foot in the world of jazz, and people respect him for that.”

It’s a mixture of musical respect, intimate knowledge of the work and humour, not to mention improvisational fire that will make you fall in love with du Plessis.

How to realise you are beautiful

ColorPurple

MY sister, my best friend forever: Celie (Didintle Khunou) writes a letter to her sister Nettie (Sebe Leotlela), who lives in Africa. Photograph by enroCpics

THERE ARE SO many “wow” moments in the South African stage version of The Color Purple: The Musical, you’ve got to hold onto your seat with both hands. Supported by a set that features diagrammatic representation of space and texture, a cast that sparkles with magnificent voices and fine acting skills, and a classic narrative that just doesn’t get tired, this is the cultural imperative of the year so far, in this city.

The translation of Alice Walker’s 1982 classic black women’s liberation novel into a stage musical is simply gorgeous, offering a gloss on the horror of black women’s lives in America between 1909 and 1949, punctuated as it was by rape, battery and an implicit understanding as chattel. The songs are wrenching and potent but jazzy and full of poetry. And the choreography in this work represents an understanding of the rhythm of the spoken language, the lyrics and the context that will completely satisfy your head and heart. Ultimately, The Color Purple a tale of victory and it is a six-tissue show – you’ll shed tears of outrage and of joy, in an unmoderated way, from beginning to end.

With magnificent Didintle Khunou in the role of Celie – a role performed by Whoopi Goldberg in the original 1985 Steven Spielberg film – the brilliance is cast. And while the production is not flawless, there is a moment in the second half of the piece, where Khunou, slight of size, stands alone on the stage and embraces the whole huge space and all its audience, with her rendition of “I’m Here”. It’s a moment which will stay in your heart forever.

But Khunou is not alone in giving this production incredible vocal muscle. Stand out performances by Lerato Mvelase in the role of Shug Avery, the catalyst to Celie’s abusive marriage, who teaches her that sex can be fantastic, Neo Motaung as Sofia, Celie’s daughter-in-law, who gives as good as she gets and who has a voice that reaches across generations in its heart and soul, and Dolly Louw, as Doris – an ensemble member – who has physical presence onstage that makes you simply fall in love with her.

Mister, played by Aubrey Poo and Harpo, his son, played by Yamikani Mahaka-Phiri, collectively offer an understanding of flawed black American maleness, which is violent and crude, aggressive yet still capable of love – and indeed capable of turning around. The work is replete with sarcasm and the power of defiance in the name of unfairness and it is funny and rich and nuanced with gossip and jazz.

It is supported by a set that simply takes your breath away. Slats of wood are hammered in place to set up a sketched illusion of context. It’s free of gimmick, strong and direct, and does exactly what a set should do. There are moments when you stop noticing it, simply because it cleaves so perfectly with the work. Similarly, the costume designs are understated yet appropriate, they’re comfortable on the eye, on the cast members and on the context being represented.

And while the individual voices in harmony and alone are beautiful enough to make you weep, by themselves, there is a glitch in the work — or rather, two — which stand like two book ends for the show. The ensemble songs, at the beginning and the end of the work, which feature the whole company belting it out, fight mercilessly internally and with the orchestra and as a result, they’re very shouty. And the casualty: the lyrics and the clarity. You get a bit of a fruit salad instead. Occasionally also, in the sphere of sound design, some of the voices, including notably Funeka Peppeta’s, goes rogue and turns into a shriek.

One other glitch in the overall show’s identity is weak design on the part of the production poster which is emblazoned on the highway as a massive billboard. The work is so much more than those bleached out sad faces which take the colour purple to dreary and corpse-like lengths: it really doesn’t do justice to the colourful, rollicking monster of wisdom and intimate poetry that you see on stage.

That said, the work, a tale of unmitigated sisterly love and extreme hardship, of church values and the magic of discovering one’s own sexuality, is one that celebrates women’s pants in the most delightful of ways and continues to be a benchmark work in the name of black women’s identity, liberation and voice. But be warned: Just one viewing just might not suffice.

  • The Color Purple: The Musical is written by Marsha Norman based on the eponymous novel by Alice Walker. Featuring music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray, it is directed by Janice Honeyman. Performed by Zane Gillion, Didintle Khunou, Sebe Leotlela, Dolly Louw, Andile Magxaki, Yamikani Mahaka-Phiri, Venolia Manale, Namisa Mdlalose, Phumi Mncayi, Neo Motaung, Lerato Mvelase, Tshepo Ncokoane, Thokozani Nzima, Funeka Peppeta, Aubrey Poo, Senzesihle Radebe, Lelo Ramasimong, Zolani Shangase, Ayanda Sibisi and Lebo Toko, it features design by Sarah Roberts (production), Mannie Manim (lighting), Richard Smith (sound), Rowan Bakker (musical direction) and Oscar Buthelezi (choreography). The orchestra, under the direction of Rowan Bakker, comprises Dale-Ray Scheepers (keyboards), Leagh Rankin and Brian Smith (reeds), Kuba Silkiewicz (guitar), Viwe Mkizwana (bass), Donny Bouwer (trumpet) and Mike Ramasimong (drums). It performs at the Nelson Mandela Theatre, Joburg theatre complex in Braamfontein, until March 4. Call 011-877-6800 or visit joburgtheatre.com

All for the love of a gentle monster

Shapeofwater

I see you: Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) opposite the creature (Doug Jones). Photograph courtesy http://www.indiewire.com

YOU MIGHT SIT there in the auditorium watching Guillermo del Toro’s film The Shape of Water, and quietly begin to think you’ve stepped into a time-zone. This beautifully crafted fantasy love story is like a rendition of 1950s schlock horror tradition ramped up all the way. It’s a delight to watch from beginning to end and contains all the fabulously one-dimensional stereotypes that leave you in no doubt as to who the good guys and the baddies are.

Set in the early 1960s in the mad little heart of the Cold War, the piece presents the American guys opposite the Russians in a quest for scientific advancement. At the heart of all of it, is a kind of amphibious beast with an utterly beautiful texture and a guileless face. Played by Doug Jones, he’s the quintessential colonialist’s dream: exotic and unknown, he’s kept as a government secret and both sides want to do a spot of vivisection to see what he’s made of.

That is, until Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) discovers him.

Endowed with a peculiarly self-deprecating physicality, fitting a mute, damaged and introverted young woman who is almost completely alone, and works a strange routine, where her job, alongside her pal Zelda (Octavia Spencer) is to clean the latrines of the facility, Elisa is the “Fay Wray” in this quirky love story. And it will wring your heart in the finest of ways.

There follows a delicious tale of discovery and boiled eggs, of explicit white male malevolence, homophobia and racism, and a rip-roaring adventure which sees rotten fingers tossed on the lounge carpet, a smashed up teal Cadillac which will make you roar with schadenfreude and some monster sex, not to mention the seductive use of Glenn Miller’s wonderful swing standard I know why. Oh, and water, there’s lots of water.

It’s as poetic an extrapolation of the genre as you can imagine and the sentiments sing with the kind of monster narrative that saw Wray in the arms of King Kong more than 80 years ago, and left audience members weeping. Replete with the dark green Art Deco tiles on the walls everywhere, and the insane nuances of Hawkins with her other friend in all the world, Giles (Richard Jenkins) a gay graphic designer who mourns his lost hair, the work is completely delicious, offering as it does, insight into the complexities of Cold War society with all its crude and petty races for new technology, and its deep biases and tendency toward social violence.

Featuring a lovely little cameo with Michael Stuhlbarg (of A Serious Man fame), as the Russian Dr Robert Hoffstetler, aka “Dimitri”, who recognises the ability of the monster to communicate and indeed to love, it’s the kind of film that will leave your heart dancing with a mix of nostalgia for comics and how stories were told, and a love of the underdog monster who is neglected or ousted by social etiquette.

  • The Shape of Water is directed by Guillermo del Toro and features a cast headed by Evgeny Akimov, Stewart Arnott, Nigel Bennett, Shaila D’Onofrio, Madison Ferguson, Deney Forrest, Diego Fuentes, Allegra Fulton, Karen Glave, Jayden Greig, Jonelle Gunderson, Sally Hawkins, David Hewlett, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, John Kapelos, Marvin Kaye, Morgan Kelly, Cameron Laurie, Dan Lett, Wendy Lyon, Brandon McKnight, Sergey Nikonov, Vanessa Oude-Reimerink, Alexey Pankratov, Martin Roach, Nick Searcy, Michael Shannon, Lauren Lee Smith, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Cody Ray Thompson, Edward Tracz, Dru Viergever, Danny Waugh and Clyde Whitham. Featuring a screenplay by Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, it is produced by J Miles Dale and Guillermo del Toro and features creative input by Alexandre Desplat (music), Dan Laustsen (cinematography), Sidney Wolinsky (editing), Robin D Cook (casting), Paul D Austerberry (production design) and Luis Sequiera (costumes). Release date: January 19 2018.

Never say quit

YouTakeMyBreath

YOU and me between the sheets: Thina (Neo Sibiya) and Arnold (Joe Young). Photograph courtesy Binnie Christie.

IT’S A GENUINE joy to see players and writers, young and frisky, engaging with the challenges that confront their lives in a manner which is loose and fast, hilarious and tight, creative and intelligent all at once. Binnie Christie, Neo Sibiya and Joe Young sparkle in this delightful little two-hander that takes a peek into the vagaries of love, life and smoking.

You Take My Breath Away is a tight little work, clocking in at just under an hour. It plays on all the double entendres the team could milk from idioms relating to smoking and loving and it’s done with a crisp air of unprecious competence that makes the performers imminently easy to watch on stage. Sibiya and Young manifest an energy individually and collaboratively that fizzes and the give and take between them as a couple is strong and sophisticated, yet not self-indulgent. It’s light enough to hold the laughs and still dig into issues of bias and hypocrisy, complexities of being in a relationship.

The characters are well written and beautifully developed: Arnold (Young) meets Thina (Sibiya) in a smoke-filled pod for smokers, adjoined to a franchised restaurant. They breathe in one another’s secondary smoke and imbibe a sense of possibility in being together. Involving everything from Nina Simone to caravans, ducks on the Zoo Lake and happy and angry coffee in bed to being polite to the neighbours, to say nothing of skirting the biases and faux pas of their respective parents – he is white, she is black – the plot unfolds with ease, but ends a little flatly.

The work itself is, however, animated into a state of frenetic and deliciously dizzy life by the physical theatre skills of both performers. They’re quick and witty on their feet and under the sheet that forms the central aspect of the set and this adds to the jazz and the fire of the piece. There are some small anomalies in this aspect of the work – where a mimed cigarette gets puffed on before it is lit, or a cigarette seems to change hands for the smoker invisibly – but these can be forgiven because there’s  a rhythm and a fire to this work which is infectious and delightful and will leave you reluctant to wait to see these young thespians on stage again. This season is short: don’t let it slip through your fingers.

  • You Take My Breath Away is written by Binnie Christie, Neo Sibiya and Joe Young and directed by Binnie Christie. Performed by Neo Sibiya and Joe Young, it features design by the cast and director, and performs at Space.com at the Joburg Theatre complex in Braamfontein until February 18. Call 011-877-6800.

Silent poems, confrontational prayer mats and girl talk

PowerPoint Presentation

THE power of the silent story: Stills from an untitled work by Reshma Chhiba. Photograph courtesy Fried Contemporary Gallery.

AS YOU ENTER the gallery space at Fried Contemporary Gallery in Pretoria, there’s a work on the exhibition A Flood in My Hands that you may overlook in error. But when you do see it, you experience a great quickening of your nerves and soul, that embraces the heart of this exhibition.

Suspended from the gallery’s ceiling it’s a devastatingly subtle essay by Alka Dass in the form of a disused baking tray and pigment. It tells of female biological and cultural identity and a play on words that will make you quiver. It’s entitled Battery not included. Is this about menstrual blood? Is it about battery as in abuse? Is it an ironic comment on the things society dictates women must do to retain a sense of equilibrium, to fit in?

Either way, it’s a cornerstone to this exhibition, which by dint of its title seems to promise an engagement with female identity in a very direct and visceral sense. Don’t, however,  expect the kind of sensationalist blood paintings that women of 1970s in America made as feminist statements. This exhibition is about women, but it’s a lot more subtle than a splashing of menstrual blood and a tossing about of tampons. It’s also a lot more sophisticated.

As you enter the space proper, the work of Laylaa Jacobs grabs you in an unexpected way, and does not relent. Evoking a work exhibited more than ten years ago by Dutch-born artist Daphne Prevoo which featured a knitted red jersey with sleeves that bled into the gallery space, the work, entitled Armoured Fulla spills onto and fills the floor. It is redolent of the atavistic quality that is abstract yet alive, present in Nandipha Mntambo’s latest works. Comprising a prayer mat as support, the work contains a vomiting out of texture created with steel wool. It’s impeccable and unmanageable in the emotional impact it presents, and you find yourself glancing back at it as you peruse the rest of the exhibition, with slanty eyes, just to make sure it has not moved from when last you looked at it.

The works are not accompanied by interpretations, to the credit of curator Aysha Waja. While many of them are obviously dealing with the complexities of being a young Muslim or Hindu woman in a contemporary setting, the visual potency of many of the pieces shouts beyond religious dogma or ritual, and without explanatory texts to hold onto, you’re forced to really look, to allow your spirit to engage with the work on a level that has little to do with religion or prejudice.

It is in this way that you’re led to read Dass’s work on this exhibition as a contemplation of beauty rituals. You get to see Jacobs’s use of prayer mats as comment on prayer practice and at Anastasia Pather’s jewel-like little compositions which blend collage with image, reference with texture meticulously.

Simphiwe Buthelezi plays with a meshed support in her work, challenging the conventions of the paintbrush as she assaults the idea of texture. Her work A moon whispered let me love you, is strong and provocative because of the use of silence – the open grids of her canvas which give the composition a breath of life.

While unframed works pinned onto the wall with a bulldog clip and Chumisa Ndasika’s flow chart with a mirror at its core grapple with professionalism in this context, it is unequivocally, Reshma Chhiba’s Untitled two-channel video, originally made in 2003 which steals the heart of the show.

You’re not given to understand what the Hindu woman on the left of the work is gesticulating about. Neither do you know what the black woman on the right is saying. But you’re compelled to watch them again, and again in their passionate expressions.

There’s a synergy between this work by Chhiba and her kum-kum powder-imbued two dimensional works on this show, dealing with the Hindu goddess Kali in a pared-down and abstract way, referencing the potency of her 2003 exhibition.

All in all, while there are fine accents and beautiful choices made in A Flood in My Hands, there’s an area of disparity. The exhibition is premised on words and phrases by Turkish poet Seher Çakır (b. 1971) and Nayyirah Waheed, a young contemporary poet who is renowned for the magnificence of her words and her Instagram presence: Achingly beautiful lines and phrases which will resonate with your soul. They are, however, written on the gallery walls in a slapdash and crooked charcoal hand which blurs the magic in this exhibition: you want the words to sing to you with impeccable clarity. They should be written with a lyrical hand and an outstretched sense of calligraphy. This presentation brings what could be a profound statement about women, ritual, identity and gender, from a promising sophistication to something young and relatively unformed.

But given the core of Chhiba’s work, the writing on the wall is forgivable. “Sometimes the night wakes in the middle of me,” writes Waheed, “and I can do nothing but become the moon.” You will feel the same relentless choice.

  • A Flood in my Hands curated by Aysha Waja comprises work by Simphiwe Buthelezi, Reshma Chhiba, Alka Dass, Laylaa Jacobs, Chumisa Ndasika and Anastasia Pather and is at Fried Contemporary in Brooklyn, Pretoria until March 3. 012 346 0158 or visit http://www.friedcontemporary.com