Q&A with 2019 Award Finalist: LAURETTE DE JAGER

After careful consideration of several hundred entries by artists from across South Africa, the judges have shortlisted 10 artists working in a number of mediums including painting, photography, digital art and printmaking.

The work of the shortlisted artists will go on show in a special exhibition at StateoftheART’s Cape Town gallery from 27 August – 14 September 2019 and the winner announced at the Award Ceremony on 05 September. The winner will be awarded a R20 000 cash prize and a solo exhibition with the gallery in 2020.

We asked the Ten Gallery Award Finalists some questions to help you get to know them before the Finalists Exhibition.


Artist Statement

'The Vitruvian ideal of Man as the standard of both perfection and perfectibility […] was literally pulled down from his pedestal and deconstructed.' (Braidotti 2013: 23)

My work investigates the totemic quality of statues within a contemporary South African context. As part of the generation that cast their first vote during the 1994 democratic elections, I find myself in the position where I must question everything that I have been taught regarding these statues that grace our public spaces. I’ve come to realise that the Fallist movement and specifically the fall of the Rhodes statue offer a unique opportunity to examine and question the monolithic liberal humanist ideals that underlay our upbringing and inform our thinking. Liberal humanism describes the ideal human as being European, male and heterosexual. Just as posthumanist thinkers have adopted Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian man as symbol for the liberal humanist mindset (Braidotti 2013; Haraway 2008 ), the Rhodes statue have become a metaphor within my creative practice as the symbol for the fall of such monolithic systems as imperialism and colonialism. By taking these effigies out of this humanist context and rendering them in satirical light, I intend to invite the viewer to question these cultural norms that have informed our thinking over the past centuries. Ironically, in the posthuman era, even statues constructed from granite or bronze are not cast in stone. The meaning assigned to a figure has become entirely malleable and fluid, as identity in the posthuman paradigm has become fluid.


Tell us about yourself. Where are your from, and where do you currently live?
I am originally from Bellville, in the Northern Suburbs of Cape Town. I matriculated from DF Malan High School in 1993, where after I studied Jewellery Design and Manufacture at CPUT, obtaining my NHD in 1997. I worked as a professional jewellery designer for 9 years before leaving the trade in favour of becoming a full time teaching artist.
Art school (and if so where) or self-taught?
Apart from my design training, I was largely self-taught, until 2014, when I enrolled in the Greg Kerr Fine Art program. After completing Greg’s program in 2014, I wanted to continue the following year, but I didn’t feel like working according to the suggested theme (food) for 2015. I wrote a brief proposal outlining the theme I would like to base my body of work on. Greg Kerr was so impressed with the proposal that he suggested that I enrol in a Master of Visual Arts program at a university. Not having a BA degree, I had to apply for Recognition of Prior Learning at Unisa and after a process of 18 months I was accepted into the Research Proposal Year in 2016. My Research Proposal was accepted and I started my MVA through Unisa in 2017. I am currently awaiting my results, after submitting my dissertation in January 2019, and having had my MVA Exhibition for examination purposes in March this year.
How did you learn about the Award and what made you want to enter?
I initially heard about the Award from an email sent by the StateoftheART gallery to the Department head at Unisa. It was however Jo Roets’ account on the StaeoftheArt website of the special camaraderie formed between last year’s finalists, that really made me want to enter. I think that we as artists necessarily work in isolated environments, and that there truly exists such a need to encourage and support each other.
Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum
What do you think of the StateoftheART Gallery Award as a platform for emerging artists in South Africa?
I think that the StateoftheArt gallery Award offers an amazing opportunity to emerging artists. As I mentioned earlier, being an artist often means working in isolation, and although social media offers invaluable marketing opportunities, one really does still need the support of a gallery in order to promote one’s work. With so many wonderfully talented emerging artists working in South Africa today, it is becoming increasingly difficult to make one’s mark on the world, and getting one’s name out there remains a challenge. The StateoftheArt Gallery Award is instrumental in offering a breakthrough into the artworld to the emerging artist.
Tell us about where you make your work.
I have a studio adjacent to my home, where I work and also teach weekly classes to adult students. When I am not teaching my children and pets gather here in the studio, while I work, as it is the sunniest room in the house. It is not unusual to have the children doing homework surrounded by cats, a dog, canvasses, oils and brushes.
What is your key inspiration as an artist?
As an artist I draw my inspiration from the world around me. I have often thought that my work is like a mirror, though sometimes somewhat tarnished or damaged, that reflect my environment. My previous body of work was centred around the Dystopian theme, originating in the time when our country was in the grips of great uncertainty. However, recently my work has taken on a far more environmental theme.
Do you have any rituals or habits involving your art-making that you can tell us about?
My artistic process has changed quite drastically over the years. My earlier work followed a very controlled, planned process, whereby I would make preliminary sketches which would then be translated into oils. Recently however, I’ve fallen in love with photomontage as technique. So much so that it has now become the genesis of every new work I make; I cut up photographs that I’ve taken of people and places I love and which have meaning to me, and then in an almost subconscious manner I rearrange these snippets into new and peculiar compositions; making strange that which is familiar, and familiar that which is strange. Every completed photomontage will eventually be translated into oils, but first I am enjoying the process of constructing alternate realities, all of this is done while listening to audiobooks, because why can’t one do your two favourite things at the same time?
Which new trends or South African artists do you find inspiring at the moment? 
After a visit at the Cape Town Art Fair in February this year, I found it interesting how many pieces of photomontage, collage and textile art where being exhibited. I especially enjoy the work of Marilise Keith, Sitaara Stodel, Hannalie Taute and Jake Michael Singer, as well as Igshaan Adams. Currently my favourite South African Painters include Matthew Hindley, and Hermann Niebuhr.
How is your work relevant in a South African context?
The Body of Work, titled Poetry of Decay, which I exhibited as part of my MVA was centred around the South African dystopia as theme. The objective was to capture the aesthetics of the dystopian reality as I saw reality imitating fiction around me over a 2 year period. The South African socio political climate changed so rapidly between 2016 and 2018, that I found myself completely reworking every single painting toward the end of 2018. I found that the later works within the body increasingly started to investigate how we humans are acting toward the natural environment. We live in an age where everything our ancestors accepted as fact are being challenged and changed, these are interesting times, as we move from the static age of liberal humanism into the fluid new posthuman age, as we discover that not only human rights should be valued but also our fundamental attitude to all living creatures. 
 What do you think South African artists can contribute to the global art market?
I believe that South African Artists, now more than ever before, are bringing a fresh approach towards the visual arts. The global art world is growing increasingly more interested in alternative methods of making art. The classic western concept of painting and sculpture is being challenged, the boundaries pushed in search for new fresh ideas for creating art. South Africans have historically been very good at working with what we have, and from a place of what we know, “the Now-here” in other words. I believe that the world is ready and eager to view the world through the eyes of South African artists, and perhaps more importantly, we as artists are eager to share our worldview with others.
StateoftheART is South Africa's leading online gallery. How important do you think it is for an artist's career to market their work online and through social media?
Online marketing is a crucial tool for all artists. Now more than ever before it is easier to send one’s work out into the world. However, artists are known for being shy and awkward in self- promotion, I therefore feel that it is of vital importance to have galleries, like StateoftheArt, to promote and guide artists in how to market their work online.
Mamelodi'a Tshwane (the whistler of the Apies River)
How do you feel about the upcoming group exhibition and the other shortlisted finalists’ works?
I am extremely excited about the group exhibition in September, and can hardly wait to meet the other finalists and to see everyone’s work up close. The quality of this years finalist’s work is of such a high standard, that I honestly do not envy the judges, who must make the ultimate decision. That being said, I think it is an immense honour to have come this far, and wish to congratulate all the finalists and wish them the best of luck for the final round of adjudication. 
Do you have any plans for the coming year?
I’ve started working on a new body of work, with an altogether new creative process which originates with photomontage and leads to a range of oil paintings. Although this project is still in its infancy, I am very excited about where this process may lead, and look forward to staying the course. As far as teaching is concerned, I am planning a series of weekend workshops for 2020, having cut my weekly classes down to 2 classes /week, and thereby freeing up time to spend more in the studio working on my new project.
If you win the Gallery Award, tell us about what you have in mind for your solo exhibition in 2020?
As of the start of this year, I’ve started questioning how we as humans in South Africa are responding to the changing concept of what it entails to be human. With the dawn of this new posthuman age, we are realising more and more that everything is connected. As Robert Pepperrell says: “To harm anything is to harm oneself” (Pepperrell 2003:171). I find the notion of the concrete parameters of what we viewed as identity in humanist terms are rapidly changing to encompass not only human but all other living creatures. I truly believe that in the South African context, where we are still battling issues relating to human rights on a daily basis, the investigation into what it means to be (Post) human is a very relevant and interesting subject, and look forward to exploring this theme in my current work. As briefly stated in the questions above, my creative process will start from a more personal place, using photographs I’ve taken myself as genesis for the photomontages, which will eventually lead to oil paintings. Should I have the opportunity to exhibit at StateoftheArt I would like to exhibit these photomontages alongside the oil paintings that develop from them, leading into a narrative of becoming posthuman.
Finally, tell us something surprising about yourself. 
During my 2 year Dystopian journey, I became somewhat obsessed with the colour Phthalo Turquoise – it not only became symbolic of the Dystopian phenomena, but also became my signature colour, so much so that I had dyed my hair Phthalo Turquoise for almost 18months, with the opening of my Masters Exhibition, I died my hair back to my usual black - I had felt ready to cast off the dystopian zeitgeist, and move forwards to new horizons.