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Lotus flower series

Africa, its traditions, history, art and ethnographic objects represent my minds ‘default’ preoccupations. Over many years and from my earliest and extensive travels to remote parts of the African continent, I’ve become particularly fascinated with 'everyday' objects, including headrests, pots and lip plates used by the members of the traditional communities I have visited - including the Himba in Namibia, the Mursi, Kara, Hamer and Suri in the Great Rift’s, Omo Valley. After decades of observation, I’ve become familiar with the designs characteristic of different communities. As my love and knowledge has grown, I recognise not only do they serve as a practical objects, but as wonderful works of art, imbued with profound spirituality and meaning. Some objects are regarded as an extension of the person, connecting him to the spiritual realm and his ancestors, which interests me. Crafted by an individual for an individual, embellished and incised with designs representative of the individual and his community, impregnated with the individuals’ oils, DNA, which create a living patina, elevates the object, as an extension of the individual, connecting him to the spirit world and his ancestors. The references to ethnographic objects and their embellishments in my art, exist as iconography infused with similar meaning. These facilitate my interpretation as an artist, the personal and experiential observations of a complex array of factors impacting modernity and cultural evolution in traditional communities.

The lotus flower, which has defined my art since 2021, is a hallucinogenic flower, which flourished in the Blue Nile. It’s depicted on the walls of pharaonic monumental temples and tombs, and is associated with the culture, glory and excesses of ancient Egypt. The blue lotus is the latest in my lexicon of iconography developed over 50 years as an artist. It is symbolic of the impact of modernity on Africa’s traditional communities through Anthropocene man’s activities. The journey starts along the Orange River in the Richtersveld, then to the Kunene in Namibia and finally the Omo River in the Omo Valley; representing three rivers, and four decades of field work to observe and photographically record the art both ancient and contemporary of traditional communities and these places, as sites of impact, on ancestral land. I have travelled extensively to these regions accumulating material which has guided my art throughout the decades of creativity. Over the 30 years spent recording Richtersveld petroglyphs, I observed the indigenous Nama’s’ diminishing access to ancestral land through vast, ever-expanding, open cast diamond mines and agriculture, along the banks of the Orange River. I watched a community evolve from living a ‘free to roam where the goats graze’ lifestyle in traditional ‘matjies skerms’, to tin shacks in restricted zones following forced removals and their creative legacy on the rocks buried by bulldozers. For seven years I observed a parallel play out in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley. The Gibe Dams along the Omo River and the Grand Renaissance on the Blue Nile had already impacted traditional communities who inhabit the dried up flood plains along the Omo River and threatens Egypt’s water security. And it is in this regard that the lotus flower is associated. Massive dams have massive impact to those downstream. The power to control the flow of the river has a devastating impact on annual inundation due to lowered water levels. Mega dams are highly controversial in developing nations. Displacement of traditional communities from ancestral land, countries and communities downstream deprived of inundation to sustain crops, modern day slavery, poverty, famine, neo-colonisation and massive debt to governments are some of the consequences of ambitious governments pursuing double digit growth at any expense. It is in this context, that the lotus flower is a symbol of man’s abuse of the environment and man’s neglect for attaching the appropriate value to humanities 5% endangered indigenous peoples who protect 80% of biodiversity. This is exacerbated by inevitable and accepted progress of modernity. In other words, I’ve applied the blue lotus as a symbol of climate change, environmental awareness and the impact of Anthropocene man’s activities.

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