Search This Blog

Monday, 17 October 2011

Gustavus’ spiritual no man’s land

By Andrew Mulenga

Belief Changes The Perspective (1999)
watercolour on paper
At a glance the vivid,  browns, yellows and blues of Berlin-born and Magoye-based artist Peter Gustavus' watercolours currently showing at the Zebra Crossing Cafe in Lusaka present an immediate freshness that lends a positive and powerful ambience to the restaurant area.
But as much as the colours heighten the viewer’s perception, as you draw closer the sharp-edged images reveal something else, something bizarre. The work attempts to blend mythical, mystical and common religious symbols or in other words it is a fleeting confluence of religion and atheism albeit in an erie manner, surely not for the faint hearted.
And as his titles might suggest, Gustavus is obviously a man of  profound reflection and metaphysical examination that may border on the blasphemous to many; Belief Changes The Perspective, Different Spiritual Approaches, Spiritual Kiss, Oshun And Her Playmates are just a few names among the twenty or so works on display that revel in some sort of mysterious spiritual credence.
Belief Changes The Perspective is one of the paintings with the most powerful and yet perplexing imagery. A painting probably as chaotic to perceive as it is to decipher. It depicts a large cross with two severed, blood-dripping hands nailed to it. But at the centre of the cross is a horizontally flipped clock from whose centre protrudes a neck with a crowned, mask-like figure extending an arm down on to the head of a kneeling female nude, with bare buttocks to the viewer at the foot of this cross who seems to have her face in what would be the groin area of the 'crucified' image, as if in some sort of sexual act.
Different Spiritual Approaches (2000)
watercolour on paper
Fiery rays of light seem to be beaming down onto this nightmarish image that appears to be surrounded by ghoulish, bird-like figures. There is no telling what exactly the artist is trying to say.
And dear reader if you are lost by this description, or the image provided with this article, you are encouraged to go physically to the viewing space off Addis Ababa road to have a look for yourself.
It probably gets worse with Different Spiritual Approaches, in which it may be assumed that he attempts to create a religious, or rather spiritual no man’s land. Here we see a 6 pointed star of David, the  symbol of Jewish identity  sitting on top of an arch, flanked by the black and white Yin yang symbol of polar opposites in Taoism and a crucifix, a symbol of Christianity to the left while the minaret and  dome of a mosque tower to the right of the image obviously representing Islam. All this is placed against the backdrop of a barren landscape with austere emptiness.
Spiritual Kiss watercolour on paper
Spiritual Kiss depicts a brown, elf-like figure with pointy ears kissing a chameleon that is holding on by the chin and curling out its tongue in readiness. Here the prominent use of a chameleon for symbolism is pregnant with meaning but of course it could mean anything. In early Christianity, the chameleon was used to symbolize Satan who, like the chameleon, could change his appearance to deceive mankind.
But the centrepiece of his exhibition, To Believe Or Not To Believe, That’s The Question an installation piece made up of a table,  old pieces of wood, coconut shells, bowls of assorted grain and a cloth with writings from the religions of the world is probably the most puzzling of the works on display. Any attempt to define this shrine-like conceptual piece would be doing it, as well as it's creator an injustice, although it can be regarded as a hideous heap of old wood by some.
Neverthless, his text for this exhibition partly reads; “In my exhibition I show pictures and an installation about different approaches of faith. I try to express my respect for the beliefs of others and try also to express that there are no superior or inferior ways of beliefs. The decision how one should believe is a very individual one and everyone has to decide only for him or herself and not for others which is the right way to believe. When we find out why people believe the way they do, we might understand their reasons of their different religious approaches and it is easier to accept that.”
To Believe Or Not To Believe,
Thats The Question mixed media installation
In any case, Gustavus' strand of creativity should be welcomed as a right to creative expression. Art in itself is often more interesting when it is shrouded in mystery and ambiguity, always implying that its creator knows something that we do not know, as we wrack our heads trying to figure it out.
Gustavus was born in 1946 in Berlin, Germany and moved to Zambia 4 years ago. He lives on a smallholding in Magoye in the Southern Province where he and his Zambian wife Namoko are establishing Shazula Cultural Forum, a centre for the arts on their property.
He took up art as hobby about 40 years ago while studying public administration and working as a civil servant. In 1978 he joined the German Development Service (DED) and served for more than 20 years in Germany, Nepal, Lesotho and Zambia.  But since 1995 he has concentrated on his art and has held several exhibitions in Zambia and abroad.
The show To Believe Or Not To Believe, Thats The Question runs until  November 1.

No comments:

Post a Comment