Deborah Bell is a leading Johannesburg painter, sculptor and printmaker whose work is created in dialogue with multiple worlds, texts, histories and consciousnesses. She is also widely known for her collaborative projects with William Kentridge and Robert Hodgins. Bell’s drawings, etchings and monumental clay sculptures possess a kind of ‘mystical godliness’ which comes from deep within her. Her art making is a spiritual practice in which the role of the artist is to ‘co-create the world, to materialise what exists and has existed for all time¹. Inspired by museum objects from ancient civilisations, including African, Babylonian and Egyptian, her work incorporates multi-layered references to past and present worlds. This connection to ancient sources and memories is linked to her spiritual beliefs and how she defines herself as an artist in Africa, working with materials such as clay and bronze.
This book is the first overview of Bell’s body of work and includes a variety of authors and different forms of writing. Together, these voices provide the reader with a multi-perspectival view into the many contexts in which Bell’s work can be viewed, thought about and read. The artist’s voice is strongly present in her writings from her personal notebooks. In the section on her collaborations with William Kentridge and Robert Hodgins, all three artists reflect independently on the nature of Bell¹s contribution to the various printmaking and film/video projects. A conversation on her Unearthed sculptures with Achille Mbembe,renowned social theorist from Wits Institute of Social and Economic Research, opens up important debates around histories, geographies and artistic appropriation.
Pippa Stein, author and compiler of this book, is a writer and teacher in the School of Literature and Language Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. She has published widely in the area of culture, literacies and education.
TAXI is a series of titles on contemporary South African artists, initiated in 2000 by the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS) and Pro Helvetia Arts Council of Switzerland, and published by David Krut Publishing. The series aims to extend the profile of South African artists both locally and abroad and to develop an active educational programme and teaching resource archive.
TAXI-010 was funded by the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS), Pro Helvetia – Arts Council of Switzerland, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the Royal Netherlands Embassy and the National Arts Council of South Africa (NAC).
Ruth Sack is the author for the educational supplement published with TAXI-010 Deborah Bell.
EXTRACT FROM THE BOOK
We have forgotten who we are.
We have become trapped in the experience of being in our physical bodies.
We have lived many many times before.
We have been all things.
We are all God.
We are individual sparks from the original Source [zero point].
Our journey is to ‘make known the Unknown.
To expand the Mind of God through our individual experience.
God is not outside of us. God is within.
We are far greater than we know.
Infinity expands in both directions – within and without.
Our bodies and brains are the tools that connect the two.
All things exist at all times in infinite possibilities.
As the Observer, we can call them into material being.
We can fix them though our intent, from pure potential energy, into mass.
I have a sense of having lived many, many times on this earth.
I have fleeting memories and visions of landscapes and cities.
When I walk through museums, I am drawn to this greater memory of Self which extends far beyond human existence.
When I work on my sculptures, they reveal themselves to me.
I don’t feel that I consciously make them, yet I know exactly how to make them.
It is as if I made them before, as if I had been them before.
I am the lovers walking in the desert. I am the solitary figure of Ulysses.
I am the floating Magdel spoons. I am the Horse and Rider.
I am the Unearthed and the Sentinels holding my world in focus.
All these people are on a journey and it is my journey.
I cannot create anything that is not my self.
I cannot experience what I have not owned.
Male or female, I am all.
DETAILS OF BOOK
Full colour, Soft cover, 96 Pages, 10.7 x 8.3inches
Authors: Pippa Stein
Editor: Bettina Schultz
Design and layout: Adele Prins
Photographic Consultant: John Hodgkiss
Photography: John Hodgkiss, Ruphin Coudyzer, Roger Woolridge, Doreen Hemp
David Krut Publishing Coordinator: Bettina Schultz
French Translator: Catherine Lauga du Plessis
IFAS Book Officer: Xavier Person
Scanning: Man Repro
Paper: Millenium Matt 137 gsm
© The authors, the artist, and David Krut Publishing, 2003