Objects: Busts, Figures, Masks…


Since the surrealism of the twenties and thirties has confused the middle-class academic notion of reality and its artistic depictions, since “Pop Art has taken down the border between high and trivial Art, and since the late Dali has unrestrainedly made use of the means of Kitsch” (Peter Bürger), our understanding of Art has changed considerably; it has become global, so to speak, in a geographic as well as in a cultural sense.

This process of change is continuing and possibly has only started to spread. But already many people are interested in works of Art not rooted in trendy-aesthetic or in content-related calculation of the day-to-day consciousness, but Art which expresses encounters and contacts with other dimensions. A typical example is the world of shamanism with layers such as magic, myths and mysticism. We also have to consider Dubuffet's Art Brut – Art by self-educated artists, whose work is defined by their inner worlds and not by clichés of classical or contemporary artistic style.

If we are tempted to classify the oeuvre introduced here as “Exotism”, we gain another “ism”, but none that measures up to the oeuvre. The relationship to the literary genre of “Ethnic Poetry” on the other hand does seem rather striking: similar motives, translated into the pictorial and the figurative, derived from the almost inexhaustible reservoir of the artist’s creative fantasy.

The abundance of the work at hand affords restriction; therefore a small selection of reflections will follow, grouped into “prototypes”.

Busts- torsi – covered all over with decorative elements – a mask of feathers embroidered with pearls; above the furry belt of the waist resides a miniature peacock: representative of the solar plexus?

Hard to overlook are the animal skulls with horns (bucrania) – in natural or miniature size – but not abstract like Picasso's “ox scull”: If it weren't for the eyes of glass with their uncanny stare, we would recognize them from Indian totem poles. Figures – among them Kachinas? – little statues, idols functioning as amulet or talisman, therefore as wish or protection charm – sometimes neat, always highly expressive and often enchanting… like the crowned dancer, light as a feather, on her heavy silver foot.

A mascot is wearing an Andes style diadem on her curly read hair, and her breasts are gilded teats – holy woman or witch, as the “masca” of the Provence suggests? Then there are the “agave heads” – or should we rather call them “pineapple figures”? At first sight some of them look a lot like John Chamberlain's “chop-sculptures”, his perfect transformation of the plastic into the chaotic. They may be symbols of worshippers – of praying people asking for help… There are also mask escutcheons, a variety of fetishes on altar foundations or consoles: “Manifestations of extra-terrestrials? Or is it a cult for aliens?” we could frolic.

Cheerful, often amusing, is the colorful bunch of the “feather dusters”, created as fetishes for magic. They do have a charming radiance. Memories of elves and other elementary ghosts from the fairytales of our childhood…

It seems that the masks allow for the most unobstructed approach: Carnival has made them familiar to everyone. One can hide behind them, or assume a chosen role. We encounter creations indicative of primitive peoples and ancient cultures, often identified with gods, ancestral ghosts, heroes or demons, who transfer their strengths – and their beauty – to the bearer of the mask. They are symbols which transform our every-day-world – and symbols may be “the only universal language” (Erich Fromm).

© E. Sturm Basel, January 2006