5 November - 3 December 2022
WHATIFTHEWORLD is pleased to present Souvenir, a solo exhibition by Stephané Edith Conradie.
A gold-plated teaspoon collection, is centrally placed against a peach coloured living room wall. On the handle of each spoon are enamelled images, impressions of places that the owner has visited, – Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Amsterdam, Dusseldorf, Antananarivo, Luanda, Maputo, Umtata and Kamieskroon; each spoon a token marker of a search for ancestral roots.
Conradie’s current exhibition takes its name from the souvenir; collected objects that store memories of distant places, events and creolised identities, which often form the base of interior decorating in South African households. On mantel pieces, in cabinets, on pedestals and stored away in boxes, souvenirs remind their owners and visitors to the home of significant and relatively rare experiences in an ‘elsewhere’ suspended from the routines of everyday life.
At home the objects pay homage to ancestral journeys; the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, the tour through the Holy Land, a cruise to a tropical island or the holiday in Paris. Souvenirs are also embedded in the trope of the colonial paradise when cosmopolitans would visit ‘exotic’ capillary lands. Motifs of palm trees, threatening animals and ships, embossed images of modern construction works, and the replicated regalia of ‘tribal’ and ‘oriental’ others, returned to the metropole as trophies of tamed remoteness; mementoes of conquest.
Conradie reflects on and reworks these tropes and trajectories represented by this common and underappreciated genre of objects. Usually thought of as banal, cheap and sentimental in aesthetic character, bought at tourist stalls as cheerful mass-produced duplicates, souvenirs are the essence of kitsch. But Conradie uses souvenirs to mould them into ornate assemblages, which are difficult to place.
They do not only represent distant, sacred and exotic ‘elsewheres’; but simultaneously ground the people who possess them into a thoroughly localised home and place.
Conradie’s assemblages do not fit into neat categories of nostalgia or tasteful refinement; her souvenirs are aesthetically, affectively and culturally ambiguous: the cheapness and decadence of assembled vessels, and the imprints of familiar though alien places. These souvenirs enliven interiors – the ordinary cheerfulness of our lives, its special moments – while not neglecting the solemnity which propels many to undertake sacred journeys.
Conradie’s constructed souvenirs combine the fluid routes from which multiple objects and people originate, into a concrete place and form, but they threaten to disperse again into new directions. Transparent and sharp glass, infused with uranium, may crack, and visibly cracks, in a constant tension of material reaggregation and disaggregation. This process, too, becomes symbolic of the fragility of creolised identities, in all their unique forms, and of human existence itself.
Text by Brandaan Huigen
Stephané Edith Conradie (b. 1990 Namibia) is a lecturer in print media at Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town, South Africa. Although primarily a trained printmaker, she is known for her bricolage assemblages. She is currently a PhD candidate in Visual Arts at the University of Stellenbosch, where she completed her MA in Visual Arts (Art Education) and her BA in Visual Arts (Fine Arts).
Her research work focuses on trying to make sense of her social and economic ‘situatedness’, in a South African context. Her research stems from a fascination with how people categorise and arrange objects in their homes, particularly her own family members in both Namibia and South Africa.
Conradie creates ornate sculptures of entangled objects, inspired by home décor found in lower and working-class homes in South Africa. Though seemingly only used for aesthetic purposes or seen as commonplace, Conradie suggests that they could provide an important lens through which to examine value placement and meaning-making.
Her work examines the histories of colonialism and creolisation embedded in domestic material culture, calling into question how identity is encoded in the private domain. These objects have provided her with a language to investigate the creolised formations of identity that are linked to South Africa’s histories of colonialism, slavery, segregation and apartheid. Creolisation directs our attention towards the cultural phenomena and material culture that result from displacement and the ongoing dynamic interchange of symbols and practices, eventually leading to new forms with varying degrees of stability.