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Berni Searle

Artist 109 Berni Searle Invisible Trauma Film and Photography

Berni Searle (born 1964) is a South African artist who documents lens-based installations that stage narratives connected to history, identity, memory, and place. She politically and socially comments on the universal emotions associated with vulnerability, loss and beauty.

She is concerned with the complexities of identity and belonging in relation to language, race, colour, gender and the History of South Africa. Further dealing with issues around nationalisms and nationhood in the face of a rapidly transforming culture.

She uses her own body as subject and point of departure, Searle experiments with the surface of her skin, allowing it to be clad in layers of coloured and aromatic spices, leaving her bodily imprint on drifts of spices on the floor, or staining certain areas of her body with various substances, suggesting trauma, or damage.

The spices are in part a reference to the spice trade which brought white colonists to the Cape of Good Hope in the 17th century, and in interbreeding with the local inhabitants and slaves brought from other parts of Africa, produced children of mixed race, or 'Coloured'.

Searle's work confronts the history and obsession racial classification has ensued. She is known to highlight her own bodily agency by using her body and to construct and deconstruct identities around race and gender. Spices are a common motif in her work.

Her series Colour Me is the focus of today.

It was a body of work from 1998 to 2000 in which she outlines or adorns her body with different colored spices and creates life size digital prints.

The colored spices allude to the racial classifications imposed under apartheid, and also the movement of both spices and slaves during colonial regimes.

Many works in the series feature measuring tools, signifying the colonial, pseudoscientific gaze on black bodies.

Her work deals with South African History, the awareness of one’s own skin color, and the abject of being ‘Other’ in your own country.

She deals with a the constructs of abject and traumas of South African Experience.


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