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Business Day Review 2005

ART

THE title of ROBERT SLINGSBY’s latest exhibition captures concisely aspects of the social commentary embedded in his new works. Dubbed POWER HOUSE (at Bell-Roberts Contemporary Gallery until January 7), it’s an eloquent protest against the marginalisation of the forgotten people of the Richtersveld.

Slingsby has been recording the petroglyph rock engravings in the region for almost 25 years. While his initial interest was with these designs, he later became fascinated by the Nama people and their heritage and placement in contemporary SA.

To illustrate his discontent about the Nama’s unwritten history, he’s chosen the shack as emblematic for the plight of a “lost” people. His installations of a rusty old bed and an indoor scene full of dilapidated artifacts like old shoes, tins and battered kettles collected from the region, make a political statement for the disadvantaged and displaced.

But the real artistic merit of Power House is Slingsby’s outstanding bronze sculptures. The nuts, bolts and panels of these tin shacks have an intensity that transcends the medium. His smaller Open Door series scales down with a similar look and feel, while Behind Bars pays testimony to inhumanity with its row of tiny houses perched next to the fence of an opulent golf course.

This artist views the homestead as a conceptual piece made from a collection of found objects — “living, breathing installations, defining who we are”. And here he’s attempted to capture the colours, textures and influence of the petroglyphs in the surfaces of his work. “For me, this potency has continued into the shack homes and this is what I am trying to convey in my art today. The monotones of my canvases and dotted texture of the surfaces is designed to convey the potency of the petroglyphs through the visual association.”

Slingsby didn’t want Power House to be an elitist showcase and his assortment of pieces are accessible on different levels. As such, it’s a powerful and direct artistic statement that questions issues of belonging, identity and history.

He has just returned from the Bahamas where he was invited to participate in a group exhibition hosted by Princess Azmat Guirey.

In March next year Slingsby will present a solo exhibition in London . This is his first exhibition in Cape Town since 1995.

Jane Mayne

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UPDATED 2nd July 2016