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"Memory, History and Loss"

An exhibition of paintings by Noel Hodnett curated by Bill Jefferies, Director, Teck Gallery,

Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC

October 20, 2007 - March 1, 2008

SFU Art Galleries

The following review was written by Megan Lau:

"A Landscape of Wounds"

"How does one talk about memory, history, and loss? The tradition of thought about this trinity is a slippery one to approach. First, how might you define history? To pinpoint how it is created, who gets to write it, and where it is located are all impossible questions to answer. Considering how these overlap in light of a world in conflict, one’s mind begins to wind around historical moments and fall into the realm of the irresolvable and frustrating. The past reveals memories of human violence, inhumanity, and barbarianism that are daunting to accept."

"Immersed in the violent history of Zimbabwe and South Africa’s authoritarian regimes, Noel Hodnett tells about the loss of memory and history in his paintings. Hodnett is a Vancouver resident born in Gatooma, Zimbabwe, and who moved to South Africa in 1955. Part of the SFU Gallery’s permanent collection, curator Bill Jeffries is presenting eight of Hodnett’s works at the Harbour Centre Teck Gallery. The artist’s large oil paintings are dark and unrelenting in their confrontational nature, and their subject ranges from realist portraits of victims of violence to the more abstract, figurative scenes of confinement and internment."

"Set against the beautiful view of Coal Harbour, the paintings create a perplexing contradiction: the work of this Vancouver artist shows a different landscape. Jeffries describes some of Hodnett’s paintings as a “landscape of wounds.” Big Brother (2002), for instance, is a bleak landscape dominated by a mountain. Grey and brown shades splattered and speckled suggest dirt streaking the scene. On the ground are sensors or transmitters. It is unclear whether they are sending or receiving signals to the satellite at the top of the mountain. The lone monitor in the bottom left-hand corner shows nothing but white noise. It isn’t so much that questions of surveillance and authority are raised, but they are answered in Hodnett’s confident tone. For him, they are undoubtedly signals of oppression. The mountain is so immense that one cannot help but feel a sense of insignificance."

View showing "Big Brother" (left) and "Kiva"

"Kiva (2006) is a fitting partner to Big Brother. A kiva is an underground ceremonial chamber for religious rituals and community gatherings, and Kiva places the viewer with that chamber. The use of texture in this painting creates the illusion of brick laid upon canvas. As the walls wrap around the viewer, a doorway reveals a wall on the other side with the words, “WHY CHANGE HIST…” written on it. The interrupted phrase is both a pointed question and an expression of idleness. It is at once hopeful and grim. However, Hodnett places the viewer as if they are on the verge of falling into another hole; thus, the prospects for betterment are fairly bleak."

View showing "Man with Elbow Raised" (left) and (clockwise from top left) "Masha Bruskina", "Steve Biko", "Stompie" and "Ukrainian Jew" . "Man on Box" (extreme right).

"The portraits that adorn the opposite side of the gallery employ the body as a site of pain. Man with Elbow Raised (2006) meets the viewer’s eyes with an unrelenting stare, conveying miles of suffering. He is completely revealed, naked, vulnerable. The canvas is sparse, with only an embodiment of the consequences of history and loss left to grapple with. Hodnett’s portraits are subtle, requiring a second look to notice evidence of brutality: a gun barrel, the shadow of a noose, a swollen black eye. Similarly, the faces of Masha Bruskina (2002), Stompie (2000), and Steve Biko (2002) use text to specify a forgotten or ‘minor’ history."

" 'Memory, History, and Loss' is a focused exercise in the inexpressibly tragic, brutal, and seemingly unforgettable. Though the paintings are blatantly political, sometimes veering into the conspicuous, they demonstrate a powerful personal investment in the stories told. There is a message in Hodnett’s paintings to be noticed; it refuses to be ignored, and deserves to be contemplated."

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