To see infinity in a cow


GOD in a cow: Daniel Naude’s Ankole 3: Outside Mbarara, Kiruhura district, Western Region, Uganda (2012).

SHE STANDS WITH supreme dignity, her horns reaching up in a glorious arc. A man milks her, but she looks, unmoving, at infinity. At you – on the other side of the photograph. This is not a photograph of an animal, it’s a paean to God, a portrait of sheer nobility. This is what you get when you enter the space in the Everard Read Gallery which contains ten photographs by Daniel Naudé, collectively entitled A Decade of Seeing.

Not very much information on Naudé himself is present in the gallery’s press release, but this is a detail you forget as soon as you are transfixed by the exquisite Ankole cattle — drawn from his photographic series Cattle of the Ages — which dominate the exhibition with their ponderous, serious presence. And you realise you know all you need to about Naudé’s presence and gentleness, respect and forbearance from just looking at these works. You might not believe in the veracity of these animals’ horns, embracing the world as they do with a serious generosity that takes your breath away. But believe, you must.

Look carefully, however: the beasts in question – including the two works which feature large dogs – are blemished. Originating from Uganda and the Northern Cape, the Eastern Cape and Australia, they bear scars on their hides. They’ve been beaten and marked. They’re like clichés of phoenixes standing noble after being broken, only they’re very far from being clichés. They’re like monuments to the potency and secret majesty of animal-hood, and portraits of gods. They’re not unblemished, but they are perfect.

You enter the space and become transfixed. Immediately. The work is tightly – almost cruelly – pared down. Just ten works, including a shrine-line image of discarded blue plastic in the Lamington National Park of Australia, a Northern Cape rainbow plummeting through a landscape of shrub, and a couple of Eastern Cape aloes, which you can taste with your eyes, leave you hungry for more. They also leave you with a very convinced and solid understanding of the harsh and unequivocal landscape, the uncanny, characteristically African light, and the strength and potency of Naudé’s eye.

  • A Decade of Seeing by Daniel Naudé is at Everard Read Gallery in Rosebank, Johannesburg, until March 31. 011 788 4805.

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