Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum Explores the Cosmos and Our Place in It
Multidisciplinary artist Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum fills Tiwani Contemporary with her metaphysical visions in “Polyhedra,” her first solo at the London gallery. The Botswana-born artist makes works inspired by her peripatetic life and by larger themes drawn from mythology, geology, and theories about the universe.
Currently based in Johannesburg, Sunstrum has lived in various countries across Africa, Southeast Asia, and North America. This nomadic lifestyle has instilled in her a deep interest in how identity is shaped by the particular places we live as well as the larger universe we call home. In her work, she merges her own worldly experiences and explorations with those of various philosophers and adventurers throughout time who sought to make sense of it all.
Such concerns are reflected in her video animation Polyhedra (2016), which inspired the show’s title. By interweaving time-lapse photography of the Milky Way, photographs of volcanoes by early 20th-century explorer Tempest Anderson, and her own watercolor drawings, Sunstrum creates a lyrical, idiosyncratic cosmogony that traces the origins of Earth, the stars, and the realms beyond our vision.
Sunstrum covers a portion of the gallery floor with an installation of polyhedron shapes, which echo her other exhibited works and hark back to Plato’s geometry-based theories on the structure of the universe. The Greek philosopher posited that triangles are the building blocks of the cosmos, and he associated heaven and the four elements—earth, air, fire, water—with the same polyhedron shapes on display.
Triangles also structure “Panthea” (2016), a suite of six large-scale drawings, albeit more obliquely. Blending figuration and abstraction, the drawings center on commanding female figures whose bodies are overlaid by triangles and other geometrical shapes. Here, the metaphysical and the physical meet in the hard, angular edges of geometry and in the soft contours of human flesh.
“Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum | Polyhedra” is on view at Tiwani Contemporary, London, Apr. 1–May 7, 2016.