For her fourth exhibition with Goodman Gallery, Carla Busuttil presents a series of expressive drawings and densely layered oil paintings which expand on her long-term interest in depicting people in power and were created during the three-year lead up to Brexit.
The exhibition opens during the month that the United Kingdom is set to leave the European Union and coincides with International Women’s Month which takes #BalanceforBetter as its 2019 slogan.
For the Johannesburg-born, Birmingham-based artist: ‘It is a thrill to exhibit in Cape Town, an increasingly global destination for arts and culture, and to be engaging with home audiences again for whom conversations around nationhood, toxic masculinities and balancing the scales of power have been ongoing for decades.’
The exhibition’s title pays homage to award-winning author Ursula K. Le Guin who, in 1987, declined to write the blurb for an anthology of all-male science fiction writing, likening the book to an ‘exclusively male [...] club, or a locker room’. Le Guin ends her letter with the droll lament: ‘Gentlemen, I just don’t belong here’, echoing, for Busuttil, a persisting sentiment shared by many women working in today’s art world.
Busuttil’s lurid, figurative paintings are imbued with the social tensions of a divided Britain and suggest an uneasy relationship to ‘otherness’. The figure of the private school boy – at times reminiscent of well-known political and royal personalities such as Boris Johnson and Prince Harry
– emerges as a primary subject. These young men, regaled in cricket, football and rugby uniforms, become symbolic for institutionalised power as well as colonial ambitions to spread ‘civility’ in order to tame ‘the wild’. Their green-hued bodies morph into sites for the merging of cultures whereupon cricket pads are appropriated to become African masks.
Drawing on Victorian attempts to domesticate wild animals, as depicted in postcards from the nineteenth century, Busuttil mirrors these curious interactions: young men are shown hugging giraffes and riding on the backs of lions, rhinoceros and crocodiles. In one image, a young man appears poised with his tongue gripped between the sharp incisors of a hyena – or is it the hyena’s tongue that is being pulled by the man?
The artist’s upbringing in late apartheid South Africa is a profound shaper of her practice, sparking fascination with segregated settings as well as
sites of exclusion and privilege, which she explores in the forms of gated communities, private schools, and tax havens.
Busuttil’s approach to figurative painting is particularly inspired by South African artists, namely Robert Hodgins for his unique approach to satirical portraiture and Penny Siopis for her experimental use of colour and energetic approach to the medium of paint.