The fragility of our lives

2014-10-08 00:00

A KEEN awareness of the fragility of life underpins the work of Corina Lemmer, who will be exhibiting her drawings, watercolours, oils and fibre art in the Tatham Art Gallery in Pietermaritzburg from Saturday.

Titled Fragile, the 20 works on show mark the second solo exhibition at the gallery in Chief Albert Luthuli Street by the Winterton-based artist. She has also shown her work at the Empangeni Art Gallery, the Durban Art Gallery, the Margate Art Gallery and Ulundi Palace.

Speaking about her inspiration for Fragile, Lemmer said that it came about, in part, from seeing members of her family struggling with illness and other issues.

“It made me realise how precious, yet vulnerable, everything and everyone around me is. You try to make home a safe place but sometimes things happen that change that,” Lemmer said.

She added that her work is symbolic of her need to create a safe “nest” for her family.

The idea of using birds’ nests in her latest collection came from watching birds building nests in the trees outside her studio.

“The variety, ingenuity and delicacy of the nests brought to me by friends from far and wide, reflected the wide range of identities of the people who brought them, and served as a reminder of how a supportive community builds an emotionally safe environment,” Lemmer explained.

“I found a comparison between the different ways in which different bird species build their nests, with how our different cultures determine the way in which we live. Some cultures are as threatened as some bird species.”

The paintings also contain a variety of cultural symbols, ranging from traditional Zulu beadwork to European objects such as tea cups and crocheted items.

“Craft work is a symbol of your culture and identity,” said Lemmer, “so by including these pieces in my work I am trying to show that we are trying to build a country and to protect something fragile: our quality of life, our culture …”

The beadwork pieces depicted in the paintings and incorporated in Lemmer’s fibre works were mostly made by Ngoneni Kubheka, who lives and farms in the Amangwe tribal area adjacent to the Lemmers’ central Drakensberg farm.

“We have worked together for 15 years, using our handwork to compare our lives. In the nest works I chose to use pieces of craftwork as symbols of different cultures and identity, realising that traditional crafts are a disappearing practice, bringing about the loss of many psychological advantages. Craft making and people’s psychological health are both becoming more and more fragile.”

Among the works on show is Renee’s Robin Nest with Our Icons, which references the different cultures in her community and the country as a whole. “I look at changes in our society with appreciation as well as hesitation,” Lemmer said. “Around me, I see traditional Zulu men carrying their finely decorated fighting sticks and women with their beaded necklaces.

“The crocheted doilie and cup are of European origin in my eyes, yet the blue and white Delft cup was originally influenced by the Chinese and the young Zulu girls on our farm can crochet better than my daughters. I regard the Gerrit Rietveld chair as an icon of excellent Western design, which many of us choose to surround ourselves with.

“The combination of elements thus suggests our attempts to create a safe, secure environment within a society consisting of a variety of cultures, religions and perspectives.

“I want to suggest how we are all influenced by cultures around us, how these all mesh together to form a whole, how changes in society are uncomfortable, even dangerous, but hold promises for the future — the egg lies quietly in the midst of the whirlwind around it.”

Also featured in the exhibition in the Schreiner Gallery will be a collection of tablecloths designed by E. Visser in the sixties. These were made for her by women throughout South Africa for publishing in her books on crocheting and knitting.

Lemmer is also showing panels from her By a Thread series. “I made these fibre works in collaboration with women from the Amangwe Zulu Craft project, comparing our views on HIV and Aids, and referring to individuals affected by this,” she said.

“My perspective is expressed in the medical facts written on serviettes with my sewing machine, and that of the bead workers by their traditional beaded hat discs: a subtle reference to what cannot be spoken about in their community, thus emphasising the vulnerability of those suffering from the disease.”

Corina Lemmer: Fragile opens at 10.30 am for 11 am on Saturday. The guest speaker is Gill Parker. The exhibition can be viewed at the Tatham Art Gallery until November 30.

themed workshops and events

Renee’s Robin Nest With Our Icons.

Gill's broken nest.

PHOTO: supplied

Ouma Nonna's crotcheted collar with nest of paperbark and flax.

PHOTO: supplied

Gogo’s Ihala Necklace with Nest of Mpepha.

Jean's Sunbirdnest with William Morris Oakleaf fabric.

PHOTO: supplied

Katherine’s Cape White-eye Nest with William Morris willow-pattern wallpaper.

PHOTOS: supplied

TO coincide with the exhibition, Corina Lemmer: Fragile, there will be a number of workshops and events.

On October 18 at 2 pm there will be a talk on birds’ nests by birding expert David Johnson. Admission is free.

On October 18 and October 25, from 9.30 am to 12.30 pm, there will be two creative craft mornings with Lemmer, Jutta Faulds and others. Take along some form of fibre (from wool to wire) and tools.

Cost: R50 per person per morning, including tea.

On November 1 and November 8, from 10 am to 1 pm, there will be two watercolour techniques mornings with Lemmer. Take your own watercolours, smooth paper and masking fluid. Cost: R150 per person per morning.

To attend these events, book by the last Monday before each one via e-mail at kobie. or phone 033 392 2819 or e-mail reena.bhoodram or phone 033 392 2823.

Café Tatham is open on Saturdays and safe parking with a car guard is available.

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