From the art: It ’s all about sincere feelings

08 November 2016 - 10:28 By Jono Cane


The key to Zimbabwean artist Portia Zvavahera's impressive new painting exhibition is the word ''beyond". It's in the title, too, so it's no secret. What I See Beyond Feeling opened at the Stevenson Johannesburg last week. The enormous 2-3m works on canvas and paper concern the woman - her body, loves, sorrows, dreams and spirituality - rendered in vibrant oils. Zvavahera is notable for her treatment of the patterned textiles that dress her figures, producing works that are luminous, ethereal yet unusually earthly.They are not primarily about "meaning", although the politics of a black woman painting transcendent, enormous images of women cannot be denied. Zvavahera's work is also concerned with painting itself - with what it means to paint, and what paint does on the surface.What's magical is that, while Zvavahera is certainly aware of what it means to be a woman who is painting, the work is not about painting in a banal and circular way.Her work is beyond these concerns. It's transcendent. She achieves this because of a kind of sincerity that energises her practice and is evident in the works themselves.Sincerity has fallen out of fashion these days in favour of a knowing irony, art-historical posturing and ''meta-snark". Such art makes the critic's job easier. We have easy access to our post-colonial theoretical tools and our knowledge of dialectical materialism.And while it's true that Zvavahera's painting practice is post-colonial, its intelligence is more than didactic. Her paintings are beyond a clever lesson or a slick comment.They are disconcerting and immediate and brave and that puts them way beyond most of the other paintings I've seen recently.Portia Zvavahera's exhibition 'What I See Beyond Feeling' is on at the Stevenson Gallery Johannesburg until January 27 2017

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