Alex Flett; Billboard.
A fundamental idea of the Break the Silence print portfolio was to use the imagery contained in the portfolio as billboard images; to take over the space normally used for commercial advertising. I have often likened it to walking the art gallery into the street, and in doing so bringing something to people, especially in places where art does not exist, and there are no cultural icons such as town square statues, or particular architecture which makes one town or area different from its neighbour. The Break the Silence billboard is essentially about art, but it is art speaking about a social catastrophe called HIV/AIDS.
Left: Three Dancers billboard (photo Christine Nesbitt 2005)
In the past I have never spoken about the raw sexuality implicate in the images. Plenty of art has such, but it is confined to the art gallery, and is not out in the fully public domain, and I worried that my deliberate construction and reference to the female genitalia, were it pointed out, it would cause problems for Art for Humanity. The construction format is also of course a very ancient one, paralleling the Three Graces. The three figures as well as having a reference to Picassoís Demoiselles, could have stepped out from La Primavera. In fact both the Picasso work and Matisseís Dance both owe much to the Botticelli painting.
† Important for me was to subtly refer to the problem of transference of the virus through unprotected sex. And if the viewer looks again at the figures, they have that slightly removed look to their faces, of presenting themselves to you as sexual objects; not being seen as people in their own right; something which happens to far too many women in far too many places, borne with stoicism.
When I did a press interview with a South African newspaper with the artist Gabi Nkosi among others, shortly after the portfolio came out I evaded the subject of a direct genital sexual reference within the work by referring vaguely to prostitution and to Picasso, even though other images by other artists in the Break the Silence portfolio also imply sex organs - the print by the late Deryk Healey is an example. But similarly Derykís reference is like mine hidden, in that viewers only see it when it is pointed out to them. Much else in the portfolio has references to sex; it canít be helped because that is the key to halting transference, but the art of the entire set of images puts this forward in a way which keeps a tight rein on the fallacious and I was extremely proud to have been asked to join the group who created it.
The Three Dancers billboard which was erected in Adelaide, Eastern Cape was photographed in 2005 by the South African photographer Christine Nesbitt. The images convey a stunning understanding of the formal structure of Three Dancers, particularly the image where the young people almost repeat the structure. With all of the billboards, Art for Humanity discovered that they were acting as a cultural reference point, a meeting place, a means of distinguishing a town or area within a township, and the charity received reports of citizens being disappointed when the images eventually had to come down. They had begun to think of the images as belonging to them. They were neither patronising them, not attempting to sell them something. They simply existed as art, albeit art which was carrying a powerful message, and the message worked, because the art worked.