"My unique creative perspective has evolved over 50 years of immersive fieldwork to remote communities across the African continent.
It has shaped my art which reflects my love for the geometry and spirituality I've discovered in the creativity and traditional culture of Africa."
My career has involved a series of ‘deep dives’ to remote places inhabited by communities living traditional, self-sustaining, lifestyles, including the Richtersveld Nama, the Himba in Namibia and many communities, in East Africa’s Omo Valley. I've used a multi-disciplinary creative approach i.e. painting, bronze, monumental sculptures in stone, wood, steel and glass, and charcoal drawings.
If we had to allocate an appropriate natural emblem for Slingsby’s 50-year creative odyssey it would be a river, at times ebbing or meandering, but mostly swelling in rapid, tumbling torrents that slice through hills and mountains, its currents sweeping up silt, stone and gravel and offloading them along the riverbeds. And there are two rivers that form the principal tributaries of Slingsby's trajectory.
The first is the Orange or Gariep - South Africa's major river that rises in the Drakensberg, among the Lesotho mountains, where it is known as the Senqu, before snaking westward into the Atlantic Ocean at Alexander Bay, adjoining Namibia. The Gariep is Slingsby's River Jordan, his initial site of baptism and spiritual crossing into the alternative cosmos of ancient societies. It is a space where, for the artist, water, earth, sky and spirit align. For several decades, the Gariep’s surrounding terrain - particularly the Richtersveld, has served as Slingsby’s dictionary, the rocks as his syntax, while the geometric signs and symbols engraved onto their surfaces have become the personal alphabet of his visual dialect.
The second of Slingsby’s rivers is Ethiopia's Omo - which he first crossed in 2013. To even begin to understand his navigation, one must embrace these two river lands. They signify the junction from one state to another (both physical and psychic) as well as the re-imagining and intersection of the African diaspora. Both rivers are emblematic of multiple territories and identities - personal and collective, past, present and future. Each waterway represents a channel and a spatial-temporal continuum. Yet simultaneously both are sites of displacement, dispossession and calamity, representing stolen legacies.
Slingsby’s research has focussed on the Anthropocene era. This term denotes the geological period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment and the scale of the former’s impact on the latter. These can be gleaned from clues extracted and deconstructed from of the ancient layers of the earth. But his voice is not that of the interventionist; it is the more meditative expression of the artist. And his findings have been rendered in paintings, sculptures, installations that comprise intricate, monumental and meticulously detailed homages to indigenous societies and their environment.
Firmly grounded in his empirical experience of this world, Slingsby’s art is the product of meticulous research into the ancient mark making of indigenous communities who have been marginalised through colonialism, apartheid and economic imperialism. As with his lifelong focus on ancient societies, Slingsby exposes the ways in which inequality is manipulated, legislated and institutionalised to suit an elite. He confronts the issues of ethnic identity and identity politics, as well as the attendant problems of patronage, and the distortion of good governance.
He also acknowledges the inherent instability of fixing or freezing social categories and their susceptibility to the overlapping dynamics of culture, economics and politics. And through his work he expresses outrage at the uneven trade-off between history, identity, livelihood and the often bitter fruits of so-called civilisation which, for the poor and the marginalised, often bring servitude, displacement and the status of exiles even within their own lands.
Extract from InDependence by Hazel Friedman