The Witness (Pietermaritzburg)

Dec 1991

 

Something strange, mysterious and entirely extraordinary is taking place right now in an obscure basement in Pietermaritzburg. On the university campus, a young artist, Janet Solomon, is exhibiting the fruits of several years’ labour and research and the works that she unveils to us are like a fantastic journey to the roots of our far-off collective ancestral past.

The sculptress takes us back to the very origins of life, to the sea where it all began, to ships that let us explore the world and to the unfathomable grooves traced by death on a tombstone that seems straight out of one of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories.

 

What is initially so surprising about Solomon’s sculptures is that they already seem to belong to the past. Even her smoother works- and this is not just the texture of the materials used – never have that nearly always too perfect definition of contemporary high-tech work nor the too predictable geometry of post-modernist creations that have now become rather old hat. Her sculptures have already lived; they have, in an extraordinarily short space of time taken to create them, spanned centuries, millennia

 

They are like vestiges of civilisation, long since swept from the surface of the globe by some frightful forgotten cataclysm.

It is the feeling of rediscovering a part of our past that is felt particularly strongly when standing in before a glass case, almost Palaeolithic in nature, in which are grouped photographs, maybe of the site excavation, from which have been unearthed and brought back to life the various objects alongside.

 

Totems are next to dugouts bleached by the shores of time; items of broken pottery face sumptuously barbarian decorations, part of the apparel of ceremonies whose purpose has been lost to us.

Even more striking than the beautifully magical shapes of Janet Solomon’s pieces, is the novel way in which she has sculpted them. Not using her tools according to traditional techniques , as taught by her lecturers, but appropriating them to  make them bend to her needs, to her desire, as did primitive man who did not know the rules that centuries of civilisation have bequeathed to contemporary artists, she has reinvented an unorthodox art, vibrant in its originality.

 

In the middle of the exhibition, one piece, LETHE, radiates an irresistibly feminine splendour, that of the artist herself.

 

You feel impelled to go up to this piece and to touch it in a caress, to find again the lost point of contact with what Janet Solomon has so generously given back to us in this exhibition: the refound memory of our collective past.

 

On exhibition until the end of November in the basement of the Geology Department on the local campus.