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PRESENCE IN ABSENCE Nicky Marais


“Sometimes we are trapped between the gates and the snakes. We have to choose to go through the path of knowledge, to learn what the snakes have to teach us, and not allow ourselves to be trapped by the gates” - Rosa Namises, opening speaker, ‘Presence in Absence’, May 2017.


All the Gates, acrylic on paper, 60 x 42 cm


Presence and Absence, acrylic on board, 120 x 60 cm


Nicky Marais

PRESENCE IN ABSENCE

Catalogue for the exhibition

The National Art Gallery of Namibia 2017

Overleaf: Redhill - Many Graves, acrylic on board, 84 x 120 cm


The content of this most recent body of work by Nicky Marais essentially continues a long conversation with specific and significant shapes and colours, but also indicates a departure from her established practice in terms of a personal engagement with history and silence.

and graves, genocide and oppression have contemporary consequences. The presence and absence of these stories in Namibia have created a space where it is possible for Namibians to live in the presence, or in the absence, and for it to be unclear which is which.

In the past Marais employed a vocabulary of abstract forms and colour relationships that originate primarily from the Namibian landscape, and the social and political history of the Namibian people. Through the layered use of flattened symbolic images she recreates the patterns inherent in natural landforms, pathways and human settlements – urban and rural, traditional and contemporary. However in this body of work we see the emergence of new forms inspired by texts, dreams and conversations.

This conversation about the spiritual and physical, much like the conversation about abstract and figurative art, has often been framed as a strict binary. In the words of Laura Hoptman: “Abstraction as an essential expression of an idea... rather than as a representation of an object from the real world, is the most straight-forward binary definition”. This binary is disrupted in Marais’ work through the use of representational symbols, drawn from recognisable sources, to create layered compositions that span our traditional notions of figurative and abstract art. In a similar manner her subject matter runs counter to the binary of spirituality and intangibility; divergent and at times conflicting narratives are brought together to create physical artworks. The presence/ materiality of these works stand in place of what is absent/immaterial.

The shapes and forms in this exhibition are drawn from a wide range of sources. Describing her work as a “constant hunt for significant shapes”, Marais has frequently used shapes derived from the ancient rock paintings and petro-glyphs in the Namib which describe and depict the relationships between people and their spirit worlds. This interest in the relationship between the physical and spiritual continues in this body of work and extends into an investigation of the relationship between the tangible and intangible, the real and unreal. The history of Namibia, both recent and ancient, is a tale of loss and dispossession, as well as fortitude and opposition. Deserts 8

‘Presence in Absence’ explores the relationship between abstraction and non-representation in this collection of paintings and found shapes. Using stencils and collage to build areas of painted pattern, Marais juxtaposes various forms to create vibrant, diverse surfaces. In describing the work of Tomma Abts (an artist whose work Marais admires), Laura Hoptman says “to


create rather than to represent can be seen as active, even activist, because the artist herself is positioned to communicate the most profound, if inchoate, ideas in a language that is nonspecific and timeless”. In many ways these words characterise the continuous development of Marais’ work, as the continuing hunt for symbols is an active process that is frozen for just a moment in these paintings. Nicky Marais is a Namibian painter who has lived and worked in Windhoek as an exhibiting fine artist, arts project coordinator, arts educator and activist since soon after graduating in 1987 from the Port Elizabeth Technikon in South Africa. Marais has exhibited in Namibia and internationally. She is currently the Head of Department of Visual Arts at the College of the Arts, where she teaches theory of art and builds local content into the diploma qualification courses offered by the College. Helen Harris Exhibtions Curator, NAGN

References: http://gunsandrain.com/artist/nicky-marais/ Personal communication with the artist Laura Hoptman, 2005, ‘Tomma Abts’

Yellow Witch Marks, acrylic on paper, 30 x30 cm

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Eight Small Temples, acrylic on board, 20 x 168 cm above: Round Satellite 1, acrylic on paper, 30 cm Ø 10


Tall Arches 1, acrylic on paper, 69 x 35 cm Tall Arches 2, acrylic on paper, 69 x 35 cm 11


Satellite 1, acrylic on board, 88 x 120 cm 12


Satellite 2, acrylic on board, 80 x 60 cm

Satellite 3, acrylic on board, 58 x 58 cm 13


Temple Chaos 2, acrylic on paper, 42 x 60 cm Temple Chaos 1, acrylic on paper, 42 x 60 cm 14


Drum Lid 14, acrylic and spray paint on reclaimed metal, 58 cm Ø Blue Gate 1-3, acrylic on paper, 42 x 30 cm each


Red Witch Marks, acrylic on paper, 56 x 76 cm Mask 1, acrylic on canvas, 30 cm Ø 16

Mask 4, acrylic on canvas, 30 cm Ø


All the Witch Marks, acrylic on paper, 56 x76 cm Drum Lid 12, acrylic and spray paint on reclaimed metal, 35 cm Ă˜


Drum Lid 6, acrylic and spray paint on reclaimed metal, 59 cm Ø Pink Witch Marks, acrylic on paper, 41 x 30 cm Blue Witch Marks, acrylic on paper, 41 x 30 cm Opposite: Redhill - Many Graves 2, acrylic on board, 120 x 120 cm 18

Overleaf: Big Temple, acrylic on board, 88 x 118 cm


Yellow Blocks, acrylic on paper, 42 x 30 cm Green Blocks, acrylic on paper, 42 x 30 cm Mask 2, acrylic on canvas, 30 cm Ø Opposite: Unbelievable, acrylic on board, 88 x 58 cm 22

Overleaf: All the Temples, acrylic on board, 84 x 120 cm


Aba-karros 1, acrylic on paperl, 30 cm Ø Drum Lid 4, acrylic and spray paint on reclaimed metal, 36 cm Ø Drum Lid 3, acrylic and spray paint on reclaimed metal, 34 cm Ø Opposite: Four Temples acrylic on board, 87 x 79 cm


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Witch Marks 1, acrylic on paper, 30 cm Ø Witch Marks 3, acrylic on paper, 30 cm Ø Opposite: Green Graves, acrylic on paper, 60 x 42 cm


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Round Satellite 3, acrylic on paper, 30 cm Ø Drum Lid 8, acrylic and spray paint on reclaimed metal, 55 cm Ø Drum Lid 9, acrylic and spray paint on reclaimed metal, 60 cm Ø


Drum Lid 7, acrylic and spray paint on reclaimed metal, 58 cm Ø Drum Lid 5, acrylic and spray paint on reclaimed metal, 58 cm Ø

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Four Small Witch Marks, acrylic on paper, 46 x31 cm Red Network , acrylic on paper, 42 x 30 cm

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Mask 6, acrylic on canvas, 30 cm Ø


Snake Dreams, acrylic on paper, 30 cm Ø Aba-karros 2, acrylic on paper, 30 cm Ø

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Blue Squares, acrylic on paper, 42 x 30 cm


Drum Lid 15, acrylic and spray paint on reclaimed metal, 58 cm Ø Drum Lid 11, acrylic and spray paint on reclaimed metal, 59 cm Ø Drum Lid 13, acrylic and spray paint on reclaimed metal, 36 cm Ø

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Three Temples, acrylic on paper, 70x31 cm Drum Lid 10, acrylic and spray paint on reclaimed metal, 59 cm Ø

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Round Satellite 3, acrylic on paper, 30 cm Ø


Drum Lid 2, acrylic and spray paint on reclaimed metal, 58 cm Ø Witch Marks 4, acrylic on paper, 30 cm Ø

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All the Graves 2, acrylic on paper, 76 x 56 cm


All the Graves 1, acrylic on paper, 76 x 56 cm

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Mask 5, acrylic on canvas, 30 cm Ø

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River Temple, acrylic on board, 50 x 60 cm


Witch Marks 3, acrylic on paper, 30 cm Ø Yellow Gates 1, acrylic on paper, 42 x 30 cm Yellow Gates 2, acrylic on paper, 42 x 30 cm Overleaf: Two Temples, acrylic on board, 84 x 120 cm

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Tribulus 1, acrylic on board, 30 x 60 cm Tribulus 2, acrylic on board, 30 x 30 cm

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Tribulus 3, acrylic on board, 60 x 60 cm


Yellow Grid, acrylic on paper, 49 x 42 cm

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Nicky Marais in Conversation with the curators at the National Art Gallery of Namibia - Helen Harris, Ndeenda Shivute and Gina Figueira Your work is influenced as much by history as by chance encounters in your everyday environment. However the final works do not distinguish which symbols were drawn from which time frame. Can you tell us more about this dynamic?

I have realised that my attachment to certain shapes (sourced from my everyday environment as you say, or found in novels, historical texts or chance glimpses into other peoples’ lives) is an instinctive or sub-conscious recognition which I value immensely. I see these as gifts found in unexpected places (an old wagon wheel at an auction, a rock engraving hidden under a shrub in the desert, a temple on the Ganges described in a novel, a string of ancient beads in a museum). Recently these shapes came together to tell a story about Namibia, and about presence and absence. The body of work that makes up the ‘Presence in Absence’ exhibition grew out of your continued exploration of abstraction through the use of symbols. How do you view this in relation to the Namibian context?

Abstraction is a process as old as the first symbolic representation by people. The beautiful and enigmatic cross hatched scratches on a piece of ochre found at Blombos Cave, dated at about 75 000 years old, give me a sense of belonging. The very many abstracted rock art images found in Namibia, the abstracted patterns and symbols carved, burnt, scratched, beaded and embroidered into hundreds of household

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Drum Lid 1, acrylic and spray paint on reclaimed metal, 35 cm Ø


utensils and garments, all over the world, speak the same language of pattern, shape, colour and line. This forms the basis of my own artistic practice. I feel like I am continuing a long conversation about shapes and symbols that started long ago. Much of Namibian history has been obscured both by time and by aggressive silence. I hope that my paintings can make connections and carry our past a little way into the future. The concept of making absence (in various forms – relationships, loved ones, memories etc) visible should be, by its semantic nature, a contradiction. In your work there is an exploration of that which we cannot necessarily define without speaking of ‘lack’ (absence), in terms that we can relate to (visceral experience of ‘presence’). To what extent does this consciously form part of your process. Can you describe what that process means for you?

Painting, when it is flowing right, is a kind of long meditation process for me. I paint, and get involved, and lost, in reveries. I have said quite often while talking about this body of work that my mother is frequently in the studio with me, although she died nearly five years ago. The artistic love and support she gave me, as well as her practicality and sense of humour are still tangible in my space. I hear her words come out of my head and we laugh together at the absurdity of life and doing what we do. From witnessing your process, I have noticed that you are not only prolific but that you work on

Statehouses, acrylic on board, 74 x 148 cm

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multiple pieces at the same time. The layering in your work means that there are multiple artworks present even when only one is visible on the surface. The rest remain absent to the naked eye. Would you say they all form part of the final work and don’t exist as individual artworks?

I think this is how the element of time becomes part of the artwork too. I enjoy the particular history behind each artwork, and the feeling of accomplishment I get when I can see bits of my struggle to create just below the surface of each piece. In a way the material itself tells me when the work is done – it’s often a question of which gives up first, me or the surface! I sometimes go back to paintings ten or more years old and work over them. Nothing is ever really complete. Although the past is unalterable and gone, it is also integrated into our present and becomes part of our processes. Connecting to the past can mitigate our alienation and create bonds between people, absent and present. To answer your question, in many ways the works don’t exist only as individual artworks, in the same way that we don’t only exist as individual artists. We are also elements in the fast flowing stream of human imagination and resourcefulness.

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Four Gates, acrylic on paper,48 x 36 cm


Temple Graves, acrylic on paper, 60 x 42 cm


2002 “Variations” Chelsea Gallery group show, Cape Town, South Africa 2003 “Human Touch”, Contemporary Namibian Art, Turin and Milan, Italy 2004 Solo Show, National Art Gallery of Namibia, Namibia 2009 “Rock & Roll” with Sharon Gorelick, Omba Gallery, Windhoek, Namibia

Nicky Marais Born:

1962, South Africa 1970, moved to Namibia

Studied:

Port Elizabeth, South Africa

“6 Namibian Artists”, GTZ Head quarters, Eschborn, Germany

Tulipamwe International Artists’ Workshop Exhibition, Windhoek, Namibia

Lives and works: Windhoek, Namibia

2010 Solo Show, “Face of Africa” Art Sa- lon Gallery, Gross-Sieghardts, Austria

Selected solo and group exhibitions:

1987 Solo Show, Port Elizabeth, South Africa 1989 Solo Show, National Art Gallery of Namibia, Windhoek, Namibia 1996 “10 Namibian Artists” Bielefeld, Germany 1997 Tulipamwe International Artists’ Workshop Exhibition, Windhoek, Namibia 2001 Solo Show, “Grids” National Art Gallery of Namibia, Namibia 2002 Joint show with Christine Marais, Die Muschel Gallery, Swakopmund, Namibia

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“Dry Amigos & ICE” with Mikko Ijas and Andries Fourie, Windhoek, Namibia

2011 Namibia Celebration, 21 Years of Independence, Berlin, Germany 2013 “Synergies: Remixing Locality” with Andries Fourie and Mikko Ijas in Nairobi, Kenya

“Land Matters in Art”, Juried Exhibition, National Art Gallery of Namibia

“Divergent Strategies” Bush Barn Art Centre, Salem, Oregon, USA

“Gender-Based Violence”, National Art Gallery of Namibia


2014 Solo Show, “New Work”, Omba Gallery, Windhoek, Namibia

“Art Inside” National Gallery of Namibia, Windhoek, Namibia

“Moments of Light” National Gallery o f Namibia, Windhoek, Namibia

“Bank Windhoek Triennial”, National Gallery of Namibia, Windhoek, Namibia

2015 “Body&Soul” Fine Art Gallery, Swakop- mund, Namibia

“B2Gold”, B2Gold, Otiwarongo, Namibia

“Art Inside”, National Gallery of Namibia, Windhoek, Namibia

2016 Guns & Rain Stand, Turbine Art Fair, Johannesburg, South Africa “Art of a New Generation” Museum Würth Germany

“Conversations” National Art Gallery of Namibia, Windhoek, Namibia

“Amazing Namibian Women” National Art Gallery, Windhoek, Namibia

Visual Artists Namibia Exhibition, Omaruru Artists’ Trail, Namibia

2017 Tulipamwe International Artists Workshop Exhibition, Windhoek, Namibia

Solo Show “Presence in Absence”, National Art Gallery of Namibia, Windhoek, Namibia Mask 1, acrylic on canvas, 30 cm Ø

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Impression

Acknowledgements

This catalogue was printed to accompany the exhibition: PRESENCE IN ABSENCE at the National Art Gallery of Namibia May-June 2017

Our sincere thanks to: The National Art Gallery of Namibia COSDEF Art Centre Swakopmund Tulipamwe International Artist’s Workshop Actofel Iilovu Rosa Namises Martin Harris Kate Harris Pierre van der Westhuizen Max Weylandt

Publisher: Helen Harris Windhoek, Namibia Photography: Gina Figueira Helen Harris

Nicky Marais is represented in South Africa as well as onlone by Guns & Rain

Text: Gina Figueira Ndeenda Shivute Helen Harris Nicky Marais Layout and Design: Helen Harris Printer: John Meinert ISBN:978-99945-85-34-2 Published 2017

Large Temple 3, acrylic on paper, 50 x 85 cm


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