Artist journals moving through a political landscape

Two pieces by Ingrid Winterbach, which feature at her solo exhibition at the Gallery University of Stellenbosch.

Artist and novelist Ingrid Winterbach opens a new solo exhibition, shedding light on her practice as visual artist. Under the title Relevant / Irrelevant she portrays the times of students protests, Marikana widows and white privilege.

The solo exhibition at Gallery of University of Stellenbosch (GUS), opened last week. Winterbach will be showing paintings and drawings dating from 2006 to the present.

The “relevant” part of the exhibition includes drawings that engage with the tudent protests, and white rivilege. Other “relevant” themes are the Marikana testimonies and rape.

The exhibition includes a series of large drawings made during a residency at the Cité des Artistes in Paris. The works often combine text and image, for example a portrait of the rape victim, Lucretia, together with the testimony of a widow of one of the miners killed at Marikana. As a thread through some of the works are drawings of empty speech bubbles.

Winterbach is an award-winning novelist, with five of her novels translated into English from Afrikaans. She studied fine art, and taught fine art at the University of Stellenbosch for 13 years. “I’ve always had a double interest – making visual art and writing – but somehow I’m much more established as a writer,” she says.

Artist Ledelle Moe, of University of Stellenbosch Visual Art Department says: “The texts quoted in the works provide fragmented voices that articulate what is being said and also what is not being said. They are like pages in a diary -they meander, allude to and provide fragments for each reader to reassemble and connect into their own narrative. In this way, these works on paper can be seen as scaled up pages of a journal unfolded in the gallery space”.

“References that are personal, political and art historical are traces of what has been erased and what has been revealed, what is seen and unseen. This erasure speaks to a non-voice, a silenced voice or censored text and image. Almost like a code, the words and images provide points on a map to reveal a vocabulary of clues,” says Moe.

“It’s not the kind of art that points out on what is wrong with South Africa, or what needs to happen. The works rather serve to register the experiences of a person moving through a political landscape. She allows all these things to touch her, but does not end with an analysis or choose a side” says Winterbach’s partner, artist Andries Gouws.

The “irrelevant” part of the exhibition consists mainly of paintings, dealing with “less obvious concerns”. Winterbach’s is an eclectic style, borrowing freely and referencing a variety of sources, like Holbein and Oriental iconography. She also has a consuming interest in death and its symbols, such as the skull.

“I use imagery intuitively. The skulls refer to the presence of death, but also add a comic element,” says Winterbach.

“She is laughing at death,” adds Gouws.

“Her art is dealing with the uncomfortable stuff – death, and suffering – violence which is filtered through art”.

“The exhibition is an interesting dissection of art history, the body and current affairs. It weaves personal insight, journaling, and meandering of the artist with the public engagement of the audience. The result is an ambiguous and uneasy tension of understanding and misunderstanding,” says Moe.

The exhibition will run until Saturday June 3.

Gallery University Stellenbosch is on the corner of Bird and Dorp streets, Stellenbosch. It is open 9am to 4pm on weekdays, and 9am to 1pm on Saturdays.

For more information, contact GUS curator Valeria Geselev at 071 550 1427 or