This is the last week to see Anastasia Pather’s exhibition Pretty Face which runs until 19 January at the 99 Loop Gallery in Cape Town. Pather is a self proclaimed ‘reluctant’ artist and finger painter. This is her third solo exhibition at 99 Loop Gallery.
Pather is a Fine Art graduate from the University of Witwatersrand, who lives in Johannesburg. Her reluctance to call herself an artist stems from her belief that ‘artist’ is a title that you earn and one which she is not yet ready to claim for herself.
This exhibition features a collection of abstract images – all of which are heavily textured – paint overlaid with fabric, hair, sequins and other objects. This conceptual body of work titled Pretty Face, can be explained by this quote from the catalogue:
Pretty Face oscillates between love and camouflage. Pieces work as a possible imagining of ‘confidence’ armour battling the…abstract, …consistent and …sometimes blatant …patriarchy. Also, because women need to be all things to all people, all the time, the works are pretty and inspired by hoopoe crowns tempting lovers or art buyers. The prettiness acts as a camouflage shield to facilitate optimal acclimatization in a magpie led landscape of excess and overkill. (Pretty Face catalogue: 99 Loop Street Gallery)
Pather’s work above Pretty Girls always Win shows us the tools used in the act of camouflage – synthetic hair, make-up and bright colours. These are used to bolster one’s confidence and create the ‘armour’ which women use to protect themselves in the battle against the patriarchy. Women have often resorted to using their beauty or sexuality to assert power over men, especially in societies where they have little or no power.
Despite Pather’s claim that art should not be taken too seriously since ‘it is only art’ – there is an undercurrent running through the exhibition that includes issues of gender, sexuality, power and ‘the South African Indian aesthetic’ (Pather@99loopgallery). In the Mother-in Law’s Tongue, for example the title refers to the common name for a plant with long, sharp spiky leaves. The title could also apply to the matriarchal figures within conservative families whose cultural and religious views further entrench stereotypical roles for women.
The installation, Tightly flowered bridal plaits for the Pretty Tamil Bride, refers to the traditional hairstyle of Tamil brides. In the past notions of beauty for Indian women was associated with long hair coupled with the femininity of traditional dress. The synthetic hair creates the illusion of beauty while the phrase ‘tightly flowered’ refers to the bride’s innocence which could also be an illusion.
Anastasia Pather’s work is ambigous since it is at once ‘pretty’- ‘to tempt art lovers’ but also imbued with subtle messages about gender, power, sexuality, and ethnicity.
Featured painting at top of page: Anastasia Pather, The Soft Revolution, mixed media on canvas.