Walter Oltmann : Cradle

Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa
29 Oct 2015 - 12 Dec 2015

Walter Oltmann : Cradle


Cradle (noun):

1. A little bed or cot for an infant, esp one mounted on rockers or swinging.
2. Any bed or place of repose.
3. fig. The place in which a thing begins or is nurtured in its earlier stage; the beginning.

Cradle (verb):
1. Lay in, or as in, a cradle; rock to sleep; hold or shelter as in a cradle.
2. Nurture, shelter, or rear in infancy.

[Shorter English Oxford Dictionary]

Cradle presents new works by Walter Oltmann comprising aluminium wire weavings, drawings, prints and watercolours. This body of work focuses on a series of human skulls, notably those of children and young adults, (photographed from the Raymond Dart Collection of human skeletons, School of Anatomical Sciences, Wits University) and selected photographic images of South African landscapes taken at rock engraving sites. The wide-open, rocky landscapes evoke a harsh geography and in relation to the images of the skulls they carry a sense of absence and immutability.

Presenting images of skulls in relation to landscapes under the title ‘Cradle’ inevitably reminds one of the “Cradle of Humankind,” a name given to the Sterkfontein area in Gauteng where fossil discoveries were made of early hominids. In his introduction to the book A Search for Origins, Science, History and South Africa’s ‘Cradle of Humankind’, Philip Bonner (2007) notes: “The Cradle […] provides a lens through which to view and comprehend a series of absolutely pivotal and formative moments of South African prehistory and history.” Adopting this idea of ‘cradle’ as a ‘lens through which to view’ histories, Oltmann presents wire woven landscape images in circular formats that allude to views seen through a telescope, underscoring the process of looking and examining. Being images of sites that carry evidence of human presence from a very long time ago, the landscapes also introduce the prism of time. Laboriously incised and pecked into rocks, we know very little about who the creators of these engravings were, why the images are there and what they are all about. Similarly, and more closely related to our own time period, the wire woven skulls of anonymous children reflect on the ‘formative moments’ of individuals who once lived here but about whom we have little or no knowledge. ‘Cradle’ presents a melancholic contemplation on these lives and the character of trauma that their histories assume.

Walter Oltmann was born in 1960 in Rustenburg, Gauteng, South Africa. He completed his BA (Fine Arts) at the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg in 1981 and his MA (Fine Arts) from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in 1985. He is currently working part-time as Associate Professor in the Wits School of Arts and is in the process of completing a creative PhD titled In The Weave: Textile-based Modes of Making and the Vocabulary of Handcraft in Selected Contemporary Artworks from South Africa.

Exhibition opening Thursday 29 October at 18h00



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