4 – 28 August 2010

iArt Gallery Wembley: A Project Room for Contemporary Art

Sondeval, Sandra Hanekom’s most recent body of work, is at its core a conflation of two things. On the one hand, it can be regarded as a significantly emotional reaction against old-school “fire and brimstone” Christianity of the kind preached during her childhood. However, it is simultaneously a homage to Christian art of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries.

Sondeval (literally meaning “falling into sin”) is the Afrikaans term for what is known within the Judeo-Christian religions as “The Fall from Grace”. The term refers to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from paradise after they had offended God by consuming the fruits of the Tree of Knowledge. For this transgression, humankind is condemned to hard labour, the pain of child-bearing, disease, old age and ultimately death.

While the English term, “fall from grace”, has a more elegant ring to it, the Afrikaans translation expresses the unmitigated nature of their downfall more unequivocally. The unsympathetic Christianity to which Hanekom was exposed during her childhood presented God as an entity to be feared and avoided. This left her alienated and mistrustful of all forms of institutionalized religion. Rather than follow a conventionally pious path, Hanekom chose rather to take her cues from her family’s love of history, art, wit, individuality, creativity and storytelling.

This issue is by no means unique to Hanekom’s childhood, but what is surprising is that, along with her skepticism of the church, she possesses a deep passion for Biblical art of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. She explains that at a young age, she literally “fell in love” with the work of artists such as Bruegel, Bosch, Dürer, Van Eyck, Caravaggio, Velázquez and Goya. What she admires or adores about these enigmatic figures is the fact that their work “seduces” the viewer – a quality that she feels should be the cornerstone of all art, historical and contemporary.

Almost as a macrocosmic extension of her own oxymoronic feelings, Hanekom is fascinated by the tumultuous relationship between God and art. She believes that all art concerns God in some manner or another. She explains: “Sometimes even an absence of God can be seen as some strange affirmation.”

Her recent works, including large oil paintings on board panels, contain images of a disjointed human existence.They can be regarded as modern-day Bruegels – “filled to the brim with symbols, questions, mysteries, life and sometimes death.” These works purposely display no unified cohesion. Instead, they express isolation and futility. Human passions, obsessions and endeavours are all revealed as transient. Hanekom believes that little has changed since Bruegel painted his most famous masterpiece: The blind leading the blind. This work expressed the human condition as hapless and directionless – a situation which has not improved. Hanekom elaborates: “We are connected by blindness and folly. We are like a Bruegel painting.”

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read review by Cobus van Bosch
10 drawings in pencil and pressure