In the painted world of Johannesburg-based artist Lady Skollie, to be human is to be hungry. In her current exhibition, “Lust Politics,” she begs her viewers to scratch their most primal of itches, serving up a sumptuous visual feast full of papayas, apples and bananas ripe with sexual power, as well as bodies that look like they could be just as easily devoured.
The artist was born Laura Windvogel in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1987. Her adopted pseudonym contrasts the typical associations with being “ladylike” with the Afrikaans term “skollie” which, the artist explained to The Huffington Post, is used in South Africa “to describe a person of color as a suspicious character.” Lady Skollie appropriated the word often employed to police identity, in effect, liberating herself from her own.
Skollie is herself a jumble of seemingly oppositional parts ― defiant yet conscientious, playful yet foul ― all coexisting at various frequencies. “Lady Skollie is where the two parts of my personality are harmonious, feminine and masculine, the one not encroaching on the other,” she said.
Her multimedia paintings, made from ink, watercolor and crayon, occupy a similarly paradoxical terrain. At first glance, it’s their appealing juiciness that seeps out, the painted fruits tempting the bold colors and the promise of sweetness.
Then, however, it becomes apparent just how much an apple, when split down the middle, resembles a woman’s spread legs; that there are pink penises hidden within a bunch of bananas. “I don’t remember a time when the theme of using my body and sexuality was not there,” Skollie said.
But the paintings are not pure pleasure. Their coarse renderings and clustered black seeds obscure a darker underbelly. In part, the works allude to some of the repercussions of erotic hunger ― issues of consent, abuse, as well as the enormous pressures women endure as a result of being sexualized and objectified. The idea, for example, that women’s bodies ripen like fruits and then rot if they’re not consumed.
Skollie’s painted papayas and bananas also serve as symbols of exploitation and colonization, a grave reality for South African descendants of the Khoisan tribe, like Skollie herself. Approximately 22,000 years ago, the Khoisan people were the largest group of humans on Earth. Today only about 100,000 remain, with much of their lifestyle, based around hunting and gathering, uprooted by herding and agriculture. Skollie’s work pays tribute to her heritage by embracing the essential elements that comprise human life: food, sex, and love.
“One of my biggest inspirations is Khoisan culture, as a woman of Khoi descent,” Skollie said. “However, the Khoisan elements I am inspired by are not what they were, and unfortunately, due to colonization, I will never know the extent of knowledge, culture and true power the Khoisan possessed. All I can do is offer my new versions of Khoisan cave drawings, hoping that the 1,000-year gap in culture can be filled by my interest and respect. As artists of color I think our sole purpose is to fill in the gaps left by colonization.”
Ultimately, Skollie’s paintings combine pleasure and pain to depict the human experience through the lens of animal urges. The graphic images are easily digestible and oh-so-sweet, though they can leave a bitter aftertaste.
Lady Skollie’s “Lust Politics” runs until March 4 at Tyburn Gallery in London.