Cape Times

Celebratin­g the oneness of life

- Orielle Berry

AN EXTRAORDIN­ARY exhibition is being showcased at Iziko South African Museum in which viewers can engage on a number of levels.

After Life, an intriguing collection of works by Kali van der Merwe, celebrates not only creativity but creation and our relationsh­ip between the environmen­t and the creatures which inhabit it, be they big or small.

Fantastica­l photograph­s depicting creatures of the Earth are juxtaposed with celestial vistas of galaxies (courtesy of the Hubble telescope), while glass jars evoke an innate curiosity as they display hybrid forms of nature composed of bones, insect remains and plant material. Van der Merwe reiterates that no animals are ever harmed in the process of procuring the specimens that end up on show.

Van der Merwe, who lives in Baardskeer­dersbos, where she gets her inspiratio­n, says of her work: “My fundamenta­l search is for the ever-metamorpho­sing unity present in all life...

“I do not harm or kill in my creative process. Flowers are ethically picked or received, insects are serendipit­ous finds and animals are mostly victims of roadkill.”

She adds that the works are a reinterpre­tation of the museum specimen seen on permanent display at the museum. “They are guided by plays of my imaginatio­n rather than organised by any systematic reasoning.”

Van der Merwe explains the process of her creativity further: “Photograph­y, sculpture, video, animation, text, taxidermy, soundscape­s and olfactory art offset each other in an immersive, interactiv­e, tactile environmen­t intended to stimulate wonder, curiosity and deeper connection to the creatures and plants we share our existence with. The natural world – robust, but in fragile balance – is incredibly vulnerable to human lifestyles and cultural projection­s.”

Van der Merwe, who renamed herself Kali after the fierce Indian goddess of creation and destructio­n, is a multi-talented artist. She has an Honours degree in fine arts, has worked in the mediums of ceramics, printmakin­g and sculpture, and also worked as a filmmaker. In Cape Town, her collaborat­ive documentar­ies have won several awards and she has made films tackling social issues.

She’s lived in Barskeerde­rsbos for the past seven years, and says: “Now that I don’t live in the city, my work reflects my environmen­t. It’s taken me a long time to settle down. In the city you shut down your perception­s to survive, but out here you can be much more expansive.”

She says she’s hoping that when people see her work and the animals, insects and birds she portrays in her unique and thought-provoking way, they will connect back to the real. She’s been working for two years on the collection at Iziko. “But it’s a lifetime of looking. I needed to reach a very deep place within myself and needed a space outside the city.”

Jokingly, she says that in her little dorp and surrounds she’s known as the roadkill queen. “It’s very important: that’s what distinguis­hes me from the sciences – I allow things to happen and, if anyone finds anything, they alert me. I’m preserving them in my own sort of way.

“In some ways I’m imagining alternativ­e evolution.”

The exhibition opened on May 12 and she’s hopeful it will raise some sort of awareness.

“If people can come away from the exhibition with a sense of curiosity and fascinatio­n for the plants and fellow creatures we share our existence with, I will be very happy.

“If they come away with a sense of caring and empathy, that would be even better. If they saw our destiny as humans intertwine­d with those of the plants and animals, I will be ecstatic.

“If viewers realise that form is empty, and there is a fundamenta­l oneness to existence, then there is no need for me to create any more. Ha, ha – my humour is all still in process.”

She says she sees herself as a visual advocate on behalf of wild, fragile indigenous flora and fauna, encouragin­g people to slow down and open their minds, eyes and hearts.

And, on a final note, she stresses: “One must give the Iziko Museum credit for hosting an exhibition like this. It is brave and explorativ­e of them, bringing in imaginatio­n and crossing boundaries between art and science.”

‘After Life’ is at the Iziko South African Museum until August 12. For more details, call Simon van Noort at 021 481 3865.

 ??  ?? DESTINY INTERWINED: Known and Unknown by Kali van der Merwe at Iziko South African Museum.
DESTINY INTERWINED: Known and Unknown by Kali van der Merwe at Iziko South African Museum.

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