Art

John Michael Metelerkamp's 'Keeper' series explores the female identity

12 September 2017 - 10:45 By Mary Coririgall
John Michael Metelerkamp's 'Keeper' series is on show at Candice Berman Gallery.
John Michael Metelerkamp's 'Keeper' series is on show at Candice Berman Gallery.
Image: Supplied

In Federico Fellini's The Temptation of Dr Antonio, a giant woman steps out of a billboard and roams an Italian city.

As with all oversized beings in films, such as Godzilla, or Gulliver's Travels, this female character is forced to wander alone and aimlessly in a world that's too small for her. She can't inhabit a home, a bed, a chair and due to her extreme size is both a threat and an oddity to be scrutinised.

Her fate is horribly paradoxical - she is lonely but never truly alone - she's too large to hide from sight.

The figures that dominate John Michael Metelerkamp's Keeper series, showing at the Candice Berman Gallery, embody and challenge this theme.

His dominant figures are twins, so while they are forever adrift from the small world they inhabit, they have each other. This keeps them bound, in an almost unnatural way.

This is particularly the case in 2, where legs, arms are twisted and splayed. They appear trapped, pinned in position with their naked bodies on view.

It's the presence of small stick figures in black and white that drives home the unusual scale of their physiques. Are they too small, or are the twins too big?

The theme presses us to consider what is normal. We can't see any details of the miniature characters because they're too small to be rendered. They move around the giant twins bodies as if they are territories to be explored.

The twins appear to be fixated, observing the world around them via their double faces.

You could read all sorts of things into Metelerkamp's female nudes that recall Picasso's cubist works. They could be read as portraits of celebrities constantly on display, their bodies scrutinised. The little figures that climb over them could be ''ordinary" women, who consume their images and envy their bodies.

These appear familiar because of the cubist style, though Metelerkamp's roughshod rendition feels fresh. It's hard to think of male artists willing to tackle the female nude with such empathy in their objectification.

His art is intriguing and interesting, with an unexpected, quirky sense of humour. Perhaps it's the looming emancipation of women he grapples with here; the larger-than-life figure who threatens to fit into a world that is not yet ready for her. - Corrigall & Co

'Keepers' by John Michael Metelerkamp shows at Candice Berman Gallery, Riverside Shopping Centre, Joburg, until September 13.

This article was originally published in The Times.

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