Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Auckland reveals a mystic truth

“The true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths,” the American artist Bruce Nauman once said. ‘Mystic Truths’ is also the name of a current exhibition at the Auckland Gallery, according to the guide I picked up at the airport...

With its slate houses and neat streets, Auckland looks sweet, but what am I doing here - apart from my job?

... perhaps I should go.

Our hotel is opposite a volcano (which has reassuringly not been active for the last 600 years or so). Fancy that. It looks more like a little hill though and not dangerous at all. On top, university students are making sexy eyes at each other against a backdrop of jungle trees and a birdsong soundtrack.

At the foot of the volcano and just down the road, sits the gallery. I enter just in time for the daily guided tour, which starts at 2 pm. First up we look at the collection of historical art and I am surprised to see how much colonial Auckland looked like colonial Cape Town. Same as my hometown, this was also a Dutch and British colony at respective times.

It is interesting to note that Europe managed to transform the whole world to their concept of ‘civilized’ society. In New Zealand this has lead to a loss of culture for the Maori’s. Twenty years ago the gallery put together an exhibition of 174 Maori treasures to celebrate the culture, This exhibition ended up touring the United States and introduced Maori culture back into the world.

Across the globe people are turning to original culture for inspiration and wisdom on how to live. Culture is a human need and the more modern society guides us away from it the emptier our lives will become.

In South Africa the new government is desperately trying to claim back the African roots that got tangled up with Western culture. In the process I am losing my culture, which is unfortunately a product of Apartheid and therefore surely doomed. This does not make it any easier to lose the soil I grew up in. It is still a process of grieving.

I treat my eyes to the rest of the gallery once the guide finishes her talk. Some pieces make me smile. Others make me cringe.

One turns me inside out and makes me feel hollow. It is a small painting of a jug and a lemon on a table - a simple still life by Picasso. The description reveals that Picasso wanted to capture ‘the physical sensation of absence’. Whether it’s the absence of hope, love, family, friends or material things are not specified.

For a while this painting keeps me spellbound. This is why I travel. To keep filling the empty spaces. I refuse to allow the sensation of absence a power over me.

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