Soil: From the whispers of ancient civilizations found in clay to the innovative approaches to art creation using grass mats that transcend cultural heritage, from blankets weaving narratives of truth and land ownership to painters layering earth and figures,

From the whispers of ancient civilizations found in clay to the innovative approaches to art creation using grass mats that transcend cultural heritage, from blankets weaving narratives of truth and land ownership to painters layering earth and figures, "Soil" encompasses a rich tapestry of interpretations. Soil will be opened by the renowned author, academic, and cultural theorist Ashraf Jamal.

Six Artists…Six unique ways of exploring thematic concerns centered on “Soil“…Six different interpretations… Heino Schmitt, Frans Thoka, Carey Carter, Henrico Greyling, Fumani Maluleke and Asanda Kupa will ignite your mind and your imaginations with their unique narratives.

Land-earth-soil lie at the epicentre of a disaffected and diseased South African psyche. The root of the problem lies in the Natives Land Act of 1913 through which 90% of the land was assigned to a white minority. The catastrophic implications of this criminal law fester’s today. Land expropriation without compensation has become a political rallying call. But what is of far deeper interest, and central to this exhibition – Soil – is the psychic consequence of a historical miscarriage of justice, which not only left the majority landless and disenfranchised – effectively homeless – but which, as a consequence, would deepen the need to restore a sense of home – of homeliness and nationhood.

 

It is therefore unsurprising that the matter of land would be a key component of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela’s inaugural speech in 1994, the dawn of South Africa’s democracy. ‘Each one of us is as intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the bushveld,’ the great leader begins. ‘Each time one of us touches the soil of this land, we feel a sense of personal renewal…. That spiritual and physical oneness we all share with this common homeland explains the depth of the pain we all carried in our hearts as we saw our country tear itself apart in a terrible conflict and as we saw it spurned, outlawed and isolated by the peoples of the world, precisely because it has become the universal base of the pernicious ideology and practice of racism and racial oppression.’ That this pernicious practice prevails, reveals the degree to which we have failed or refused to heed Mandela’s greater vision. It is no accident that he should embrace both jacaranda and mimosa, both the perceived alien and indigenous species. In his vision South Africa belonged to all.

 

It is in this greater spirit that the exhibition – Soil – seeks to heal divides and deepen a shared vision of South Africa as a country-place-earth-soil. This piece of land, framed by nationhood, is also the product of what Robert MacFarlane calls ‘deep time’ – ‘the dizzying expanses of Earth history that stretch away from the present moment,’ which, on the eve of a national election, is all the more embattled. However, ‘Viewed from the perspective of a desert or an ocean, human morality looks absurd – crushed to irrelevance,’ or not quite. To understand the exhibition – Soil – is to understand this greater compass of time. Our soil is as shaped by recent history as it is defined by deep time. The artists on show – Frans Thoka, Asanda Kupa, Carey Carter, Henrico Greyling, Heino Schmitt, and Fumani Maluleke – capture this gradient of spirit, as though embodying the differing strata of the earth itself.  Schmitt fuses the geological and industrial, Greyling the poetry of soil and stone. Carter strives to ‘harness vibrational energy from the sun and from Earthly materials’. Frans Thoka, using the grey and white-striped prison blanket as his support, constructs the paradox of bondage and hope, an ensnared a black pastoral vision, and yet, despite this entrapment, this lost ideal, nevertheless a vision akin to Mandela’s – global, humane. Asanda Kupa, a kindred spirit, transforms a nostalgic past into a poetic present, his a vision of a human collective ritualistically bonded to the earth. Maluleke too shares this vision, the ground of his paintings a straw sleeping mat transformed into a dreaming tool for black grace. While Carter’s core message binds us all – the need for ‘care and gratitude, alongside a tender mindfulness in action, to tread lightly on a planet where we remain only briefly’, but also, after Mandela, eternally. Which is why, given his great grace, he recognized that in this broken land both the jacaranda and mimosa trees are eternally rooted.