Bronwyn Katz: Reflections on memory - Photography by  - Thandiwe Msebenzi
Photography by Thandiwe Msebenzi

Bronwyn Katz: Reflections on memory

“En as die voels sing, kom daar bink straatjies uit die voels se vertjies.” (And when the birds sing rays of light stream from their feathers.). When asked about why this is her favourite quote, Bronwyn Katz explained that this quote by her grandmother speaks to the ideas she has about voices, the importance of speaking and expressing oneself. One can see how these words are echoed in her artwork. “I belong to a family of storytellers. I am most influenced by stories passed on to me by the elders in my family and in the community I grew up in,” Katz explains.

Besides describing herself as an orange ? (referring to both the colour and the fruit), she is an artist who works with multiple media ranging from sculpture and installation to video and performance. She lets the idea or thought she is interested in sharing dictate which media is the best for its materialization. “I majored in sculpture during my BAFA which resulted in a sensitivity to material which I take advantage of when creating my video performances…Some ideas need my physical body to be more present/visible than others, in such cases video becomes a more appropriate medium for realizing the work,” she explains.

Bronwyn’s overarching themes of memory and giving voice are coupled with confrontations with trauma, violence and erasure. Her creative process involves  a lot of observation and experimentation with materials which speak to these observations. She describes her becoming an artist not as a realization, but rather as something that happened quite naturally. “I spent the first two years of my BAFA  trying to drop out of art school. Being a Black Womxn at the Michaelis School of Fine Art was a very traumatic experience. I had started applying to study alternatives such as architecture and town planning when my mother, who initially was against me studying art, encouraged me to follow through and finish what I had started. During my last two years at the institution I got involved with communities of Black fine art students who were discussing and confronting the trauma experienced at Michaelis. Being a part of such communities was what strengthened my confidence as a fine art student. It helped me understand the importance of me (a Black Womxn) being an artist / “Culture maker”. Katz views her work as a way to work through questions in her head and serve as a knowledge-making technique.

Bronwyn has been making a name for herself through the awards she has received, including the Simon Gerson Prize for her body of work as well as the Sasol New Signatures merit award for her video ‘Grond Herinnering’ (2015). She also participated in the 12th Dak’Art Biennale in Senegal, along with having her first solo exhibition and participation in multiple group exhibitions this year.

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Her first solo exhibition, ‘Groenpunt‘ at blank projects intensively engaged with ideas on memory. The title of the exhibition centers Cape Town’s Green Point where the exhumation of remains took place in 2003, as well as reflects on Groenpunt, where she grew up in Kimberley. Influenced by the book Memory is the Weapon by Don Mattera which refers to the colonial project and the violent act of erasure and “forgetting” which accompanied this project, she used the inner foam from old household furniture to think about the violent act of exhumation and its connection to the history of land dispossession in South Africa. “I am interested in working against this notion of forgetting and erasure, which still exists.” When asked about the relationship between her materials and the content of her artwork she explained that she “understand[s] traces and residue present in space as a source of memory. I become interested in the residue and traces of the body visible on foam from used mattress, coaches and other objects which offer the body rest.”.

She was also part of the group exhibition ‘The Quiet Violence of Dreams‘ this year, based on the novel by K Sello Duiker which looks at themes related to madness, shame, sex, violence, power, intimacy, history, xenophobia, sexuality, love, race, mysticism and mystery. Her digital video, ‘Wees Gegroet’,  refers to the Black Womxn’s body in protest. “I was interested in the confronting of violence and the agency of Black Womxn bodies in this confronting of violence. The video was highly influenced by the student movements of last year and the fundamental role played by Black Womxn during these movements.”.

Her sculptural work ‘Ouma grootjie’ (2015) was part of ‘3881 days’ at blank projects. She also participated in the group installation ‘New Monuments‘ at Commune.1 which explored the possibility of playing with the meaning and structure of the monument. Her collection of works can be seen on her website. Watch this space to see further manifestations of Blkgrl magic.

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