This page is dedicated to the 2008 Grahamstown National Arts Festival. We’re going to be reviewing art work that will be on exhibition during fest and interviewing actors and actresses, directors and play writers who are preparing shows for fest. We’ll also give you some inside info on what to do during fest, where to stay, who to do fest with, where to go, where not to go, what to wear, what to bring along and what to expect once you’re here. Updates will be done regularly. Feel free to leave comments if you have specific questions about fest that need answering. happy blogging.
Photographs and Memories
By Leila Dougan
Maureen de Jager has a sculpture of an old, brown school-case on her desk. It’s engraved with a picture of a swing and child-like handwriting. The old brown suitcase is where her journey into her past began and where the inspiration for her exhibition came from.
Her exhibition is on the main National Arts Festival programme and includes 20 sculptured suitcases, 10 enlarged photos and five letters. The letters and photos are enlarged and printed onto large steel sheets.
“My dad taught me how to work with metal, that’s the reason I use it,” says de Jager. All her works are inspired by memory, childhood, loss and the traces people leave behind after their death. The letters were written by her grandmothers who both died before she turned 21.
“I was very close to both my grandmothers; all I have left are letters and photos. It’s amazing how when you’re young you see your grandparents as powerful and when you’re older they become almost childlike again,” she says.
Her grandmother’s process of aging is evident in the letters. “She would have been 93 years old when she wrote this, there are mistakes, letters and words are crossed out,” she says.
The existing letters are scanned, enlarged, printed and then transferred onto mild steel sheets. She then writes over her grandmother’s print with a chemical that halts the rusting process. After this, a rusting agent is poured over the metal so that it rusts the entire sheet except where the print is. She cleans off the halting chemical to reveal the still silver print while the rest of the steel sheet looks old and rusted.
De Jager experiments with memory and loss in the enlarged photographs too.
“Photographs are tenuous records,” she says as she looks at the photographs she is working from which are turning a light shade of brown. She rusts the metal that the images are transferred onto. It is similar to the process used with the letters except she does not use any chemical to stop the rusting process. The images are faint and become a metaphor for the cloudiness of memory.
The photos and letters were found in an old school suitcase that had belonged to her when she was a child. It references the memory of her past and how memories are uncertain. After sculpting the suitcases she took old pictures she had drawn as a child and engraved them onto the top of the suitcase.
By doing this she contrasts her own attempts to learn how to write with the deterioration of her grandmothers’ handwriting and health. “It’s interesting how traces are an indication of people who are no longer around. These are traces of my family and my artwork will be a trace of me when I’m not around,” she says.
Her exhibition is called In Sepia and will be shown at the Alumni Gallery. It is not only the end result but the process of her work which explores a personal idea of memory, traces, identity, family and loss.