The Melrose Gallery is proud to present the upcoming solo exhibition by Christiaan Diedericks – In Search Of A New King, to be held between 9 May and 9th June.
Diedericks, one of South Africa’s most widely exhibited fine artists and print makers, both locally and internationally, is known for capturing beauty in poignant, thought-provoking, and often painful themes. Always pushing boundaries politically, socially and religiously, as well as personally, he is as unafraid of laying down his own truth as he is of the worlds…and In Search Of A New King is one of his most personal and indeed, important exhibitions to date.
For many years the artist has addressed issues of gender, sexual orientation, masculinity, body politics and environment in his work, and his audience may be forgiven for expecting similar themes in his new collective. In Search Of A New King puts issues such as poverty, the possible failure of Capitalism, power, race, racism, the appalling legacy of Apartheid and colonisation in Africa, patriarchy, global slavery, (modern corporate slavery) under a critical spotlight.
In doing so, his work continues to play devil’s advocate to not only spark debate, but also to question his own position as a privileged white, Western, gay man in his country of choice.
The artist realises he is only scratching the surface and continues to have many questions, having been positioned as an educated, and rather sheltered younger man who was perhaps blinded by his own upbringing. One specific question that continues to be a theme through this exhibition is “What is wrong with Africa?”
The vast and complex answers make writing an informed exhibition statement an impossible task. Growing up with the instinctive feeling that his white forefathers and kin were intrinsically wrong, the realisation that it was indeed, immoral only came much later.
The exhibition addresses more than ‘white guilt’ that so many men from his generation hold. It takes a deep responsibility for his part.
In Search Of A New King attempts to address the pressing issue of ‘decolonising our minds’ as a condition for thought insofar as it refers to the depth, rather than the superficiality involved in knowledge building communication – a depth that reflects respect rather than contempt, trust rather than suspicion.
“Small stories and little truths” is paramount, one big master narrative should never prevail. We are one race – the human race. And through his work and personal admittance of fault it has become clear that many white South African men are at the stage where they need to listen, rather than to dictate.
This statement is powerful in itself, but that being said, a more comprehensive understanding is also needed.
Crime and corruption in South Africa is out of hand, not to mention poverty and unemployment. After twenty years of democracy, people in South Africa of all cultures seem to be angrier than ever. While this may very well be a direct side effect of colonisation , slavery and oppression, we may now need an insurrection from black people against government lining their own pockets at the expense of the entire nation.
The vast majority of black people are currently living under the breadline in South Africa while a handful of whites and some black people are spending millions on luxury homes, cars and extravagant lifestyles.
The canyon between rich and poor grows bigger every day. This, amongst many others, are just some of the themes that are laid bare in Diederick’s work.
One final explanation of any of the work in In Search Of A New King can ever exist. Any conversation about an artwork enriches its conceptual content and ultimately sparks conversation and debate – something this rich and controversial, but highly necessary body of work does with every offering.
The aim of the exhibition is just that – to spark debate, rather than provide answers, without inviting pain and anger. Debate about possible ways forward, without adding to anyone’s past plights.
Ultimately to learn from each others’ cultures.
An undeniably powerful collection of work, In Search Of A New King is one of Diedericks’ finest solos to date. This 41-piece plus strong exhibition has enough shock value to ensure radical awareness, and more than enough beauty to awe even the most hardened art critic. This is a must-see exhibition, curated by art curator and writer Melissa Goba.
We caught up with him, here’s the Q&A:
- Christiaan, you are a prominent artist in South Africa with various awards and prestigious honours to your name. Your work continues to play an important role using the artist voice as intervention socially and politically. Why is this vital in a post-democratic South Africa, and indeed globally?
I would like to answer you by firstly quoting the Dalai Lama: “In modern Western society, there seems to be a powerful cultural conditioning that is based on science. But in some instances, the basic premises and parameters set up by Western science can limit your ability to deal with certain realities”.
In the light of the above I personally believe that any artist is first and foremost the conscience of society at any given time in history. Most people in the present day South Africa remain angered (or at least disoriented) by an exclusionary past and even more so by our seemingly bleak future. I am of the opinion that any serious artist’s voice should expose, question, play devil’s advocate and stir emotions in order to spark debates. Talking honestly at this point in time in South Africa is paramount, people are free but still disadvantaged, very little truly seems to have changed, we have no alternative. Painting flowers and/or a landscape can sadly not achieve the latter. I am of course not saying that only political work is valid art, however there is a vast difference between solid conceptual art and art as mere decoration.
2. What currently informs your work and the focus of your artistic practice? And how has it evolved historically?
My work has always been influenced/inspired by the world around me, my travels, current news, politics, masculinity and sexuality, the “underdog”, commercial detritus and popular culture. Currently, I am more interested in politics the obvious emergence of a ‘post-truth’ reality, especially on social media and in politics, not that politicians in history were ever completely truthful!
There is also undoubtedly a connection between my work and literature – not only do I write poetry myself, I also find loads of inspiration in reading poetry collections and novels, not only as inspiration/concepts for new works but also for possible titles. I am currently reading The New Testament by Jerico Brown gifted to me by a pshyciatrist friend. Brown’s poetry speaks to me on many levels and inspired quite a few works on this solo.
I also have to state that my view of the world has been challenged, turned upside-down and was changed forever after watching Hannah Gadsby’s “comedy” (not!) Nanette. Gadsby gave me the language for so many things I have felt in the past, but maybe the mostly about living a mindful life, leaving almost no footprint on our planet, living in the moment, calling out things for what they truly are and embracing both dark and light. Especially in our post-truth (social-media driven) contemporary world where ‘fake’ and ‘superficiality’ might be more lived and ‘believed in’ than ever before in history.
3. How do you select the subjects you choose to address through your work – the social, political and environmental themes you respond to?
In complete honesty, the subjects I address through my works seem to have always chosen me. For many years I struggled to become more comfortable within myself specifically in terms of my own sexuality. Making art about my personal experiences and especially exploratative of my sexuality was the only thing that made sence to me at the time. Only after feeling more comfortable in my own skin could I address issues such as the environment. Currently I am acutely interested not only in world politics, inequality on all levels and the origins of racism, but also sexual fluidity. I also befriended many more people of colour over the past few years and I truthfully became aware of the real impact of colonialism and Apartheid on the psyche of people in our country.
Especially one person, my housemate Troy, now a close friend who happens to be a man of colour, enlightened me tremendously. Many heated debates and the urgent exchange of ideas intrinsically lead to In Search Of A New King – living with someone every day is not the same as merely “having a friend”.
4. How does your love of travel influence your work?
Travel opens one’s eyes, heart and mind. I came into contact with a myriad of cultures and languages, often foreign to my own. This contact forced me to grow and slowly expand my view of the world.
After a few trips to the East in recent years (India, Thailand, China etc.) I am obsessed with finding a way to truly ‘live in the moment’, live a mindful life and make every day count – who knows what tomorrow will bring? The beautiful thing about artists is that we seem to develop obsessions, often unplanned; they arrive at your doorstep unannounced and occupy your head for a while until the next one arrives.
5. Which materials and artistic mediums do you use for the best expression of your creative and intellectual ideas, and why?
I think my most favourite medium remains stone lithography, but right now I am mainly exploring the monotype as medium. I enjoy the freedom of mark making and the medium affords me a looser approach to my image making and to overcome my OCD insofar it comes to perfection and drawing ability. The monotype helped me to realise that there can be such beauty in an unplanned, spontaneous drawing/brush-mark.
‘Bad drawing/painting’ seems to be en vogue at present. I have often been accused of being an ‘illustrator, as if we have not surpassed the ‘clear category boundaries’ many moons ago.
6. What is your favourite piece In In Search Of A New King and why?
It is nearly impossible for me to select just one favourite work on my solo – I created all of them. In Search Of A New King took more than an entire year of intensely focused work – many works were not selected for the final exhibition. I can however say that I immensely enjoyed making the eleven monotypes in the (im)Perfect Fit series and of course the sheer scale of These Bones Will Rise Again; it is undoubtedly the most ambitious monotype I have ever attempted to create and will hopefully become the centrepiece on this solo, not only in terms of size, but also importance.
7. The exhibition In Search Of A New King deals with important but also painful themes to invoke and instigate dialogue and release. Why is it so important to you that we look to the past in order to heal?
I personally believe we have to learn from the past and never forget, but in order to move forwards we need to find a way to forgive, say sorry, look each other in the eye and in doing so, heal. I am of the personal opinion that the TRC (Truth and Reconcilliation Commission) in 1996 (report in 1998) failed in truly addressing the crimes against humanity committed against people of colour in South Africa – it became a mere band aid on a gaping wound.
However, if only it was that simple; people in our country seems to be more angry than ever before and not only do we live with the scars of colonialism and Apartheid, but are also currently dealing with deepened poverty due to immense corruption and crimes by our now democratically elected government. Racism seems to be out of hand and the poor even poorer – after nearly twenty five years of democracy.
8. What are the projects and ideas you plan to explore next and what can we look forward to from Christiaan Diedericks?
It is very difficult to say where my creative process will lead me next, but my next solo might probably focus in some ways on my insatiable need to travel (escape?), not only physical, but also in my head.
In her novel Flights, winning her a Nike award, Polish author Olga Tokarczuk eloquently writes: “ I think there are a lot of people like me. Who aren’t around, who have disappeared. They show up all of a sudden in the arrivals terminal and start to exist when immigrations officers stamp their passports, or when the polite receptionist at whatever hotel hands over their keys. By now they must have come aware of their own insatiability and dependence upon places, times of day, on language or on a city and it’s atmosphere. Fluidity, mobility, and illusoriness – these are the qualities that make us civilized. Barbarians don’t travel. They simply go to destinations or conduct raids.”
The above quote is a perfect description my second greatest passion in life (travel) in one paragraph. Art has been and will always be my greatest passion.
I am also working on a few commissions and other projects; I submitted work for a few international print biennials/triennials and I will again be artist-in-residence print at the London Print studio in July/August (stone lithography). Another trip to Bali in December/January is also on the cards – I am completely in love with Eastern philosophy and that way of life.