n De Arte - Picaresque translations : Johannes Phokela and the iconic potential of ruptures : research

Volume 2010, Issue 82
  • ISSN : 0004-3389
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The South African artist Johannes Phokela (born in Soweto in 1966) conjures up a picaresque imaginary world and mischievously plays a game of hide and seek with spectators, by linking source material from the history of art, especially from the Low Countries (by artists such as Jakob de Gheyn the Younger and Jakob Jordaens) with visual material from spheres of mass entertainment. It is argued that the predilection for the representation of openings, orifices, proscenium arches, cartouches, picture frames, drawn and opened curtains, and pierced canvases that I observe in his oeuvre, demonstrates an interest in intercultural transactions and in the iconic energy generated by the rupture between past and present. Phokela's remediation of other media in the medium of oil painting, with its associated topoi, conventions and genres, is considered to be significant in this regard. It is argued that his roguish manipulation of spectator/work relationships specifically in the medium of oil painting is a means through which the ambiguities of cultural mediation or translation are staged. Taking a cue from Phokela's art, it is interpreted here as part of a centuries-old multicultural picaresque tradition and, correspondingly, a picaresque art-historiographical stance is assumed. By willfully juxtaposing seemingly disparate visual material divided by centuries, the art historian, like the artist, is able to tease out embedded meanings in a provocative, picaresque way. By 'playing the fool' in a mutual act of interpretation, new interpretative possibilities are explored.

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