'Untitled VII', 2019 by Talia Ramkilawan

‘Emphatic Whispers’ – encouraging empathy through art

The group exhibition Emphatic Whispers has an interest in the possibility that art has to make people more empathetic and to change the way in which we relate to others. This exhibition cherishes art-making in a way that creates shared experience–experiences that are empathetic.

It is explained that “through the artistic process, audience imagination, and human connection, art can have transformative powers. Artists connect people and ideas across time and space and can be architects of change.”

It is further cited–photographs objectify: they turn an event or a person into something that can be possessed.

-Susan Sontag (Regarding the Pain of Others, 2001)

One would assume that the experience of war and trauma would bring a reaction of sincere empathy from world at large. Strangely that is not the case. As Sontag explains: the shocking imagery of war does not necessarily bind people towards positions of empathy. In war people are objects; numbers–disconnected from their humanity. Art that moves away from documenting such atrocities allows one to come closer to understanding the pain of others.

Drawing all breaths together, 2018 by Alka Dass

Artist Alka Dass creates from personal archives constructing new realities. Making use of old family portraits and personal effects (often handkerchiefs) together with quotes from her diary, she allows her viewer to glimpse into inter-generational trauma. As one of the pieces reads, “This is about something that happened a long time ago but continues to affect me today”.

Calvin Kleins and Plague by Brett Charles Seiler speaks to the gay experience making use of familiar symbols he addresses the navigation of modern dating. The focus of his works lay in the message that all people experience the possibility of trauma in love. This choice of brutal honesty results in a raw empathy acting as “a call to action and a catalyst for change”.

Empathy becomes an act of embodiment as Talia Ramkilawan’s richly woven tapestries function as a voice for the complexity of South Asian identities. Within South Africa, these identities have been wrongfully made to seem homogeneous. By insisting on visibility, the existing power structure is challenged.

Thandiwe Msebenzi hopes to incite instinctive responses. Imbewu (Seeds) relays inner turmoil; “the earth is besmirched and the body furled up in a protective position.” By using the human form the viewer is made more aware of their own body.

It is not the job of the artist to transform society, however, the artist’s imagination has the ability to nurture human relationships and assist in creating empathetic connections leading to change. Art is a space for sharing an endless number of stories and voices. Art connect us and simultaneously highlights the difficulties we find in connecting. Emphatic Whispers invites you to transcend and find empathy with your fellow human beings through the connection of art and pain.

Artists include: Stephen Allwright, Katherine Bull, Alka Dass,
Jess Holdengarde, Claire Johnson, Strauss Louw, Sepideh Mehraban, Johno Mellish, Garth Meyer, Elsabé Milandri, Thandiwe Msebenzi, Gabrielle Raaff, Talia Ramkilawan, Amy Rusch, Shakil Solanki, Brett Charles Seiler and Marsi van de Heuvel.

Emphatic Whispers opens on 10 July 2019 at 17:30 and will run until 27 July at SMITH Studio.

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