Bonita Alice

Bonita Alice

Saint, 2015, acrylic on paper
76.4 X 56.6cm

My interest has long been with matters psychological. In recent years my focus has been the inherent disquiet in the space between human and non-human animals and the problem of articulating it visually.

Perhaps I try to address in pictures the dysfunction that prevails but is not seen in our dealings with other animals.

We are lulled and comforted by the false assumptions we make about our dominion, and an equally false idea of “their” cooperation, so we seldom recognise that the anxiety in the relationship comes from both sides.

My work is at least as much about my own species as it is about other animals, because in the broken alliance, it is humans who have changed… it is our values, our practices and our understanding of ourselves in the world that are different now. The broken bond and consequent loss of empathy allows us to commit, ignore or support unspeakable cruelty against other animals as an integral part of our contemporary systems. We cannot claim ignorance though we do routinely.

Animals have very little power now. Such inequality of power in a shared environment, we know, can benefit only a few. It’s worth asking whether humans actually benefit only superficially, and whether we can have entirely escaped being fundamentally diminished by the loss of the bond. Is the question really so bizarre in respect of animals when it is widely accepted in the discourses that have arisen in the past in the aftermath of various holocausts and repressive regimes?

I’ve found few visual artists who’ve more successfully apprehended the stress of the relationship between humans and non-humans than the photographer, Britta Jaschinski, who photographs animals in zoos.

In his book The Postmodern Animal (2000, Reaktion Books), Steve Baker quotes her as saying: “We need animals. Animals don’t need us, but we need them. We constantly look for any kind of connection we can possibly get to them.”

It’s a viewpoint that chimes for me because it addresses the pain in the space between humans and animals…as it is in the aftermath of any betrayal. In her images themselves, I identify too with her focus away from – though close to – the physical detail. The animal subject she photographs is often absent from the image or barely decipherable.

In past images, my Beast often evaded a familiar form. In more recent works I’ve accepted the challenge of known animal forms, though it’s not fur or smell, but the intimacy of mutual need I wish to capture.

It is a difficult area to negotiate, burdened as animal images are by Art’s history where, more often than not, the animal depicted is not actually the work’s subject. One must also navigate around kitch and Postmodernism’s grapplings. The image of animals must somehow be recoded to be read with any sympathy, just as, it may be argued, with certain traditions of human representations.

In more recent work, the idea of human refinement often provided my starting point. Humans, we insist, are elegant, urbane and worldly wise. The “sophistication” we cherish, however, is likely the crowbar between us that prevents a sympathetic and intelligent engagement with animals and animal-ness.

I’m a London-based visual artist. Born South Africa, 1962.
BAFA from the University of the Witwatersrand, 1984.
MFA from Michaelis School of Arts, University of Cape Town, 1990.

Solo exhibitions include:
2015 – Strangers of Commanding Aspect – Gallery AOP, Johannesburg
2012 – Beast in a Dangerous Landscape – Gallery AOP, Johannesburg
2010 – Beast at Home – Gallery AOP, Johannesburg
2007 – Anticipated Memory – Gallery AOP, Johannesburg
2005 – Promised Land – The Premises Gallery, Johannesburg

Group exhibitions include:
2014 Jerwood Drawing Competition, UK
2014 and 2015 – A5, Art Athina, Athens, Greece, with Lubomirov-Easton, London
2010 –   Halakasha Exhibition of Artworks and objects relating to African soccer, Wits Gallery, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
2006 –   Exhibition of 3 artists’ work about Johannesburg, Johannesburg Art Gallery
2002 –   Commission of two-part site-specific work, Spirit, Sao Paulo Bienal
2000 –   A.R.E.A. ,Exhibition of Contemporary South African Art, National Gallery of Iceland.