Transformation the theme of EL artist’s display

East London artist Stephanie Bester is to take her latest body of work, comprising sculptures and oil paintings to Port Elizabeth next month and the Western Cape in the second half of the year.

Having staged an exhibition at L’Artigiano in Fiera, Milano, Italy in 2015 and another at Cape Town’s AVA Gallery and Art Centre in 2016, Bester’s latest solo exhibition, titled Emancipation, will be at the GFI Art Gallery in Port Elizabeth at the beginning of April and at the 2nd Annual Branderskloof Art Exhibition, Vermaaklikheid, Western Cape in December.

Her limited-edition scatter cushions will also be exhibited at Decorex, Cape Town from April 28 until May 1.

“For the exhibition in Port Elizabeth, I have employed wire, wax, bronze, patina and colour for the sculptures and oil paint on canvases for the paintings of some of my sculptures,” says Bester, adding that it is essential that her artwork speaks to viewers.

“The common trait in my artworks is a sense of movement and the questioning of social issues, which is an influence from my BA honours degree in sociology.

“This theme of this exhibition is how people (especially women) are transforming their perceptions of ‘Self’, and the ‘Other’ during a search for an identity and individual freedom.

“It examines feelings, responses and relationships associated with ‘Emancipation’,” she explains.

The artworks aim to connote how, “over time and history, economics, socio-religious and political perceptions have influenced relationships and the need for women to rise above the social expectations that have dwarfed the power of their feminine potential”.

Bester says the elongated figures in her paintings allude to the influence of the San people while the poses, colour and medium communicate the narrative behind the journey.

“I employ the traditional bronzing process to imply a ceremonial rebirth, baptism by fire or spiritual cleansing.

“By using wrapping, cloaks, garments, a sash, a cross and chairs, I intend to communicate the shared pain and insecurities often associated with emancipation or the search for an identity. Human beings have at any given moment a call to act or to surrender, to be courageous fighters or tender-hearted, compassionate beings.

“At the same time, by combining animal and human figures, I suggest that instinct is an integral part of relationships and the discovery of an identity. Even though women, like elephants, are considered to be humble social beings by creating close bonds with those they care for, they would react with instinct when they or their off-spring are threatened.”

A qualified nursing sister and midwife, Bester spent much of her early working life assisting her husband, Paul, in his private practices in KwaZulu-Natal, Johannesburg and the Eastern Cape until May last year when she retired to concentrate more fully on her art.

Over the last few years, as well as national and international exhibitions she has had various commissions from guesthouses such as Prana Lodge, Oakdene Guesthouse, La Gratitude, Inkwenkwezi Private Game Research and Umnenga Lodge.

“My art has also been collected by private individuals both locally and internationally, the latest being a bronze sculpture for the ambassador of Brazil.

“Bronze sculptures are currently on consignment at the Chris Tugwell Gallery, Brooklyn and the Pretoria Kunskamer.”

In East London Bester will have her work on display during the Jikeleza Art Weekend held along the East Coast Resorts road this weekend – her bronze sculptures can be seen at Cypraea Sands Private Estates and her paintings at Emerald Vale Brewery.

“After the Art Weekend, my sculptures will be on display at the Wild Coast Visitors’ Information Centre.”

Although Bester’s current exhibition focuses on sculptures and oil paintings, over the years she has found artistic expression in other mediums.

“I have explored glass and have made large fused sculptural garments which were bought by the Guichard Gallery in Chicago. I have also explored printmaking, especially etchings and digitalised images, including embossing and drawings with alternative media. I have also attempted video clips for my master’s degree in visual art,” she explains.

Not having had an opportunity to study art at school, Bester elected to study the subject at Buffalo City College at the age of 46.

“I further challenged myself to complete a master’s degree through Unisa, which involved teaching myself certain techniques, concepts, methods and experimentation with various materials such as combining fused glass and metal, or animal hide and skulls with wood and polyurethane,” she said. — Additional reporting by Don Bryce

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