Jane Wege

The Young Masters Gallery, MOCA, Brisbane
23 July - 4 August, 1988

With Western theory in a critical state and with the apparent failure of rationalism, can the project of humanism be continued? How does one get a message across when meaning doesn't exist? Perhaps as it has been done before - by bypassing the rational, and directly seeking emotional and sensuous responses, as the expressionist painters did.

Jane Wege's paintings speak from her experiences of being a woman and living in South Africa - experiences she links together through the shared bond of an oppression which yet seeks to construct itself as "rational".

The emotional and physical materiality of Wege's work communicates her message. She lays paint on with thick bold strokes and in bright strong colours to create a rich and tantalizing surface which, in most works, appears to hover over a dark, mysterious background.

On closer consideration, after the impact of colour and texture, the rational is to be found after all: In Wege's work there is a deep involvement with history, its consequences and implications, challenging the viewer to "make sense" of her connections and to act on them.

The work is unashamedly political, operating within a humanist/modernist project some would say is dead. Yet it speaks with power. Her concern with colonisation and its subsequent alienation for the colonised, sweeps through history and across the lived experiences of women and blacks.

In some works - Blood Tie for example – the figures are intangible and ghostlike and seem at once to emerge from the shadowy back, ground and recede away from the colourful foreground. Caught between two worlds they suggest several possible readings: an ambiguous position in society; mystery and the mystical, traditionally associated with the "primitive"; and the spirit. The figures, the different planes and, seemingly, history are tied together with a streamer of red which threads its way in and out of the picture.

Return of the Ancestors traces a colonial tradition back to the birth of Western civilisation by overlaying a roughly-drawn white Greek mask and impressionistic daubs of blue, red, orange gold. As the viewer focuses on the mask, another face and spirit, haunting and mysterious, emerges through it - the ghost of conquered peoples or human instincts?

Maybe it is an age of transition. While I feel there is truth in the disintegration of culture depicted by postmodernism, I still feel myself responding with the passion and outrage of the humanist, to the vivid strength of Jane Wege's work.