Artist statement for Metanoia exhibition at Althorpe Studios & Gallery, 8 - 10 July 2016
Who are we? Where do we come from? Where do we really belong? (Hall, 2006)
The Greek word ‘metanoia’ means a fundamental change in character or outlook often in a spiritual sense. My change of heart came with the sudden realisation that as all the dispersed refugees in the media, my cultural identity is also linked to migration and relocation.
My parental heritage is British/Dutch-Indonesian. My mother and her pro Dutch parents had to flee from an Indonesia in revolution against the Dutch colonials to Holland in the 1950s. My mother married an Englishman and I was born in Portsmouth in the 1970s but grew up in Holland. I never felt different from the Dutch kids at school. Looking back I am aware now that I did stand out with my Asian features which would explain name calling.
It’s difficult to say where I feel I fit in nowadays. Am I British or Dutch or, although I have never been there, is there still a strong element of (Dutch-)Indonesian in me? You could call it a multicultural self.
My mother never taught me her native language and I cannot cook Indonesian food. Still, I feel a very strong urge to explore my exotic roots, to travel around my grandparents and mum’s homeland (Java) and see whether there is a piece of me that belongs there.
These sculptures were made during the course of questioning ideas about my identity. I cannot imagine making ‘good’ art without laying myself bare. The creative process consisted of, amongst other things, looking at the past.
By investigating historic Batik textiles I was trying to connect with a history of Indonesian traditions. The patterns and motifs inspired the leather details inserted into the cement slabs. Some have been reworked with a Stanley knife to generate a distressed look. This emphasized an ageing, ancient, appearance. The multi-coloured leather is used as a reference to skin and different skin tones.
The medium of cement moulded into a slab form acquires after drying an unpredictable patina. Every slab is unique with its own markings. They have a sense of archaeology, where the leather fossils are resurfacing. They could represent lost maternal memories. Some are cracked. I left these imperfections like the Japanese approach to ceramics called ‘Kintsugi’. This philosophy it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. ‘Wabi-sabi’ is another Japanese idea about aesthetic and is sometimes described as beauty that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. For me it conjures up images of my grandparents being held in Japanese prisoner of war camps during WWII.
The cement sculptures are monuments. They are memorials for bygone times, symbolic for the passing of time.
The bespoke wire cages are representative of ‘being labelled’. They are hung in an almost taxonomic, scientific, manner. This method of presentation shows my interest in museological traditions of display. A hint of old fashioned anthropology or ethnography revealing a colonial past.
The title ‘Metanoia’ is painted on a piece of found driftwood emblematic for the long sea journey my mother made as a child travelling to Holland.
All sculptures are approx A3 size, depth approx 1cm. Materials: cement, chicken wire and recycled leather. Photographic prints are also available. Prices on request.