Things we take when we go

Munnik

EFFERVESCENT words and the power of etching. Andrew Munnik’s He Goes. Photograph courtesy Fried Contemporary Art Gallery.

ONE OF THE central catastrophes of our world is the untold damage done to people who are forcibly dispossessed for whatever reason. People who are shoved from their land, pushed into hostile terrain. Chinese contemporary artist Ai WeiWei reflects on refugees in his enormous current advocacy film Humanflow. Much quieter, and considerably less dramatic, but no less to the point, is Andrew Munnik’s current body of work, on show at Fried Contemporary Art Gallery.

Entitled Strangers in a Strange Land, this modest collection of six intaglio prints and three large scale paintings touches all the issues central to the horror of loss – that is loss of identity through possessions, through association. In being so, they’re not invested with precious earnestness. Rather they’re quite quirky pieces that will make you smile a little as your gut is wrenched by the reality referred to.

But above all, Munnik makes curious use of the presence of words and letters, which take on the role of lines cross-hatching one another. As a result, texture is cast and presented in the body of an image, but look more carefully, and the words and letters pop out at you. It’s almost as though you are looking at a bag of memories that from far looks homogenous, but up close contains nostalgia and anguish, the things left behind, and those that are lost.

The paintings are less successful in their engagement with subtlety.  They’re less easy to fall into, from your heart onwards. Has this to do with the mix of repeated elements in Stay off the Grass, a contemplation of children in a ring-fenced space? Perhaps, but still it is the etchings that grab your eyes back each time, and capture an energy and an intensity that will make you think about possessions, about ownership and about the value of fitting in. You can’t read the text that swarms madly into and out of focus, but you understand it as text, and tease it apart for the value that the written word brings to the skill of holding on in a society where you might be excluded.

  • Strangers in a Strange Land by Andrew Munnik is in the Collectors’ Room at Fried Contemporary Gallery in Brooklyn, Pretoria, until April 7. 012 346 0158.
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