A BLACK BIBLE?
Swedish artist Johan Falkman recently visited a local community in KwaZulu-Natal for a few months to create an exhibition based on his vision of a Zulu bible. Using models from the community, he painted scenes from the Old and New Testament.
Falkman, whose inspiration came from French artist Gustave Doré’s famous illustrated bible of 1875, says he set up the scenes at private game reserve Thanda Safari’s Intibane Camp, using sets made by local carpenters and craftspeople. It is here that he created Art Project Thanda to complement his host and lodge owner Dan Olofsson’s charity Star For Life.
“I fell in love with the biblical, magical landscape,” the artist told City Press. “It felt like the cradle of the world.”
He decided to paint a pietà but had no models – he says he seldom works off photographs. “So I asked the cook Noni, the bartender Thami, the cleaning lady and the kitchen assistant to pose as Maria, Jesus, John and Mary Magdalene.”
At the reserve with Falkman was renowned Mexican-American author Jennifer Clement and they decided that she will write a dramatic story about the project to be published with the paintings. But now they needed more models. “We went to the villages surrounding our camp, where the local chiefs had gathered volunteers to be selected as models for our project,” says Falkman. “About 100 people showed up. We photographed them and I then started to make the compositions for the paintings and selected each model from the photos.”
The models were brought in from their respective villages and put up at the camp for as many days as they needed to pose for their scenes, sometimes for several weeks.
One epic canvas re-enacts a scene from the book of Samuel, in which Rizpah’s sons were hung in a gallows and left there to rot for five months.
But given the drama around depictions of a black Christ in the past, does he expect any backlash, not least for being a white artist depicting Zulu figures?
“My friend, the Archbishop Eugenio Sbarbaro, who worked for the Holy See all over the world, once told me: ‘Everything in the Bible is controversial’. I believe that this is true, so I am prepared for controversy,” said Falkman.
He intends to show the paintings in South Africa before they head to Mexico and Sweden.
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IN PROGRESS Johan Falkman’s unfinished work