CityPress - - News - GRETHE KEMP grethe.kemp@city­press.co.za

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

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