Paean to grime in my mother’s kitchen


IT IS THE ceramic dog that gets to you, first. He’s painted a delicate shade of pink. And he stands there, on the table, the epitome of uber kitsch, with his painted tongue out, his painted black eyes poised and the striations that indicate his fur all abristle. To say nothing of the cardigan draped lightly over the back of one of the chairs. This is the starting point for an intimate yet brazen exhibition/installation by young artist Allyssa Herman at Galleri Kalashnikovv. It’s about presence and absence and what it takes to be a Coloured woman with a limited budget.

Sitting cheek by jowl with Theresa-Anne Mackintosh’s exhibition, Jou Ma Se Kombuis presents the gallery’s project space with a pedestrian clarity that makes it almost cosy. But there’s a twist: with an exhibition title premised on an Afrikaans vulgarity that insults one’s mother, the work, comprising an array of cheap tzatzkes and decoration that fits into a poor person’s décor paradigm, is a comment on social values, which is at once empathetic and critical.

This small exhibition of busy loud design, a kitchen table which you expect to be grimy with the old fat and grease of a thousand kitchen meals, speaks of female values in a world coloured by tradition and humility. In some respects, it is like a stage set, where something of the ilk of Athol Fugard’s People Are Living There could unfold, but the tininess of the allotted space is used to full advantage. It’s an exhibition which evokes Miriam Schapiro’s 1972 Dollhouse in its confrontation with values positioned by gender.

Herman hasn’t printed or cast each item on show. She hasn’t slavishly focused on hiding every seam in the wallpaper. By and large, everything is bought from a small time merchant of such fancy goods. Let’s face it: if you were a conventional woman living in certain economic contexts in this country, the addition of a ceramic collie to your boudoir would be a big deal. A big enough deal to make it the central focus of your domestic space.

Having said all of that, there’s a moment, as you ‘get’ the layered values of this show, that you yearn for a touch more skankiness, a frisson of more rupture that would make this concatenation of popular design values just a tad more debauched. It feels too crisp and clean. You need to be able to smell that congealed oil in your mind’s nostrils.

  • Jou Ma Se Kombuis by Allyssa Herman is at Galleri Kalashnikovv, 70 Juta Street, Braamfontein, Johannesburg, until April 24. Call 073 124 8183.

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