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Thelma van Rensburg

Artist 315

Thelma van Rensburg

Abject and Otherness

the utilisation of the grotesque

Thelma van Rensburg (born 1969) is a South African artist whose work explores the female experience. Her work explores female sexuality and how women are represented in Mass Media. She specifically looks at the harrowing subliminal messaging in advertising, film, magazines concerning over beauty or ugliness. She explores the issues of otherness using elements of Abject to explore the Gaze of society and how these issues influence women.

‘The materiality of the female biological body has for the most part been excluded from representation in art and society. My art is aimed at finding alternative forms of female representation: therefore, forms that will re-present the material female body as a voluminous body and not only two-dimensional surface as propagated by the mass media.’- Thelma van Rensburg

Her background in psychology informs her art making process. A conceptual artist her art making process ranges from mixed media, painting and drawing to digital work. She changes medium to best suit her conceptual idea. Much like the forerunner of abject art Cindy Sherman whose art shows the darker side of female form Thelma van Rensburg’s art is layered. She deeply explores how the gaze and otherness affect women.

‘I comment on issues such as the representation of women in the media and its one-sided focus on beauty and desirability. Devices of the mass media such as advertising, advertorials and beauty advice impose nearly impossible standards of beauty on women thereby convincing them that they are valued only for their appearance’ - Thelma van Rensburg

The harsh impasto style and lurid colouring of Thelma's paintings emphasises the dehumanisation of the pin-up girl, while her digital work focuses on the shiny veneer that overlays the ugliness of female objectification. This is a thought-provoking and sometimes viscerally evocative body of work.

For example in her large-scale oil paintings from the series The grotesquerie of trauma, 2019-2020.

Thelma went from her existing body of work from 2013. She went on to digitally layer images of black ink paintings of female figures onto idealised photographic sources female models. The result being grotesquely distorted figures.

‘The painting process included the utilizing of the aesthetics of the grotesque which is a visual genre of disorder, when applied in my paintings it acts as metaphor for the psychological and physical distress that is caused by emotional and psychological abuse in childhood. ‘ - Thelma van Rensburg

She created these paintings as a personal attempt to navigate trauma. These original body of work from 2013 were cut-up, montaged and recontextualized as an act of meaning making and healing.

The original repression of trauma and loss are by these means of unearthing and remembered through the act of the creative process.

Van Rensburg explains, ‘Representing trauma by means of grotesque figuration and the collaging and painting process is an attempt, to express and bring attention to, the chaos childhood abuse causes in the body and mind of a child and as a vehicle to process my own childhood trauma.’

Thelma van Rensburg explores the link between femininity and death as manifested through the patriarchal male gaze. Her work is grounded in a 'feminist aesthetic of embodiment'. She aims to present the female body in a way that will elevate it to a place of power and becoming.

The formal qualities of her work therefore include a reliance on strategies associated with feminist modes of production such as the engagement with the tactility of the painting medium, layering, subversion and fragmentation.

‘My art thus addresses representations of women that stress women’s corporeality as perfected surface and commodity. Such representations also serve the purpose of deconstructing phallocentric representations of women as object of the male gaze.

My art addresses long-standing issues pertaining to female body politics, women, femininity, patriarchal oppression and feminism.’

Like the artist Leora Farber Thelma is particularly interested in representing the female body as 'a site of rupture and transgression of the patriarchal order' through the utilisation of the grotesque.

Sources Consulted


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