Lament II, 2011
From the series Lament I-VI
Courtesy of artist Berni Searle
SITE 1: R44
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Over the past twenty-five years Berni Searle has become known for poetically charged work that consistently challenges and reminds audiences of the visible and invisible traumas that pervade post-Apartheid South Africa. Searles practice interrogates accepted notions of identity, history, culture, memory, space, and place, as well as the complex political scaffolding that upholds these constructions. Searle works with lens-based media, especially photography and video, and often uses her own body to create complex images or narratives that are open to various interpretations, and that are often able to signify beyond a specific time or place. Her artistic language contains multiple layers of meaning that are overwritten by contemporary life stories and experiences, so that surfaces require to be excavated and mined, yielding multiple narratives that tap into collective experiences of loss, vulnerability, and resilience.
Berni Searle was born in 1964 in Cape Town. She received her Master of Art in Fine Art (MFA) from the University of Cape Town (1992-95). She was awarded a Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art (BAFA) from the same institution (1984-7). Originally working as a sculptor, she produced a work titled Illusions of Identity Notions of Nationhood for her Masters degree. In a conversation with Kathryn Smith in 2000, Searle suggested that this work “dealt with issues around nationalisms and nationhood in the face of a rapidly transforming culture. It laid the foundations for [her] explorations into an 'unfixed' conception of 'identity', and the creation of ambiguous spaces in which to consider these issues.”
Later Searle made the move to utilise large scale digital photographic prints and found materials to make installations. She uses time-based media such as photography, video and film as a tool to capture her work with performative narratives and the self as a figure to embody history, land-memory and place. Besides dealing with South African History, awareness of her own skin and of those around her has been a recurring theme in her work, as seen in the Colour Me series which was made in 1998. Her work was included in the 1997 Johannesburg Biennale, the 1998 Cairo Biennale, and the 2001 and 2005 Venice Biennales. Searle received a UNESCO award in 1998, the Minister of Culture prize at the Dak’art 2000 Biennale, and was nominated for the FNB VITA Art Award 2000 as well as the Daimler-Chrysler Award for South African Contemporary Art in 2000. In 2001, she was awarded a Civitella Ranieri Fellowship. She was the Standard Bank Young Artist in 2003 and shortlisted for the first Artes Mundi award in 2004.
Searle held four solo exhibitions at the Stevenson Gallery between 2004 and 2008. From 2006 – 2007 her solo exhibition ‘Approach’ travelled to Krannert Museum, Champaign, Illinois, Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg, SA and the USF Contemporary Art Museum, Tampa, Florida, USA.
In 2014 Searle was included in two major exhibitions in the USA, ‘Earth Matters’ at the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, and ‘Public Intimacy: Art and Other Ordinary Acts in South Africa’ at the Yerba Buena Center with the Arts in conjunction with SFMOMA in San Francisco.
Her work was included in the 1997 Johannesburg Biennale, the 1998 Cairo Biennale, and the 2001 and 2005 Venice Biennales. Searle received a UNESCO award in 1998, the Minister of Culture prize at the Dak’art 2000 Biennale, and was nominated for the FNB VITA Art Award in 2000 and Daimler-Chrysler Award for South African Contemporary Art in 2000. In 2001, she was awarded a Civitella Ranieri Fellowship, was the Standard Bank Young Artist in 2003, and was shortlisted for the first Artes Mundi award in 2004.
THEME & CURATORIAL STATEMENT
Freedom, I dream up for myself and others.
Inkululeko, ndiphuphela mna nabanye.
Vryheid, ek droom vir myself en ander.
Freedom, I dream up for myself and others, is an exploration of a visual language that bridges gaps between cultures, creates understanding, and inspires empathy and connection. This photographic presentation transcends language barriers and allows people to convey ideas and concepts using imagery and visual cues.
The works selected in this exhibition are intended to be more mindful of the subtleties of our dreams and how we view the world. The works are intended to resonate with us all, and with the medium of photography it does so in its purest form, it does not distort.
Photography is a tool that never warps or ages. This medium teaches us to look, to look again, and to do so harder. This visual universal language has the ability to change perception, encourage understanding, and create a sense of urgency when needed. It has been the reason to incite human action and at other times to inspire human connection.
This exhibition explores the Masters of Photography who draw inspiration from the African continent. It encourages the audience to foster meaningful dialogue in investigating the archive. The artists have pushed boundaries within the medium of photography and created works that have stood the test of time. Archives are not just windows into the past, they are the authentic creations of individual people who lived before us and still live among us. They are the archaeology that was never buried.