I gracefully strolled into Marion Boehm’s art space and Parisian time seemed to stand still. My entire world was instantly drawn to the most magnificent piece of art I had seen in a while. In this drama of a community that the artist had created, a group of African women stood tall in their elegance, their long colonial dresses hiked up to their breasts, giving way to their wide hips.
This was no ordinary art. Imaginary soft winds seemed to whisk the delicately entwined indulgent natural fabrics, revealing mysteries of under layers worthy of huge ceremonial events. These women had a presence, they were there and I was one of them, I was amongst them. I moved closer to the piece, my consciousness slowly bringing me back to my surroundings. I was reminded of the Herero women of Namibia who adopted their colonialist style long after their freedom. Culture and conflict whipped into voluminous long wide dresses that hang on layers of wide petticoats, the kind that demands grand postures, good mannerisms and certainly no running or fretting.
Artists and art enthusiasts mingled away in whispery conversations at the Paris Art Fair. Oblivious of their presence, I moved my gaze from one art piece to another, only to return back to that one piece within the gallery. I was in conversation with this community: I heard their laughter, not their suffering, I saw their vulnerability and their resilience, I knew of their grief; and yet their compassion and beauty outweighed their struggles. The artist had gone a long way in validating their humanity.
“Who is the artist?” I asked around.
Marion Boehn stood in her truth and presence. She was friendly and accessible, her art work much more pronounced than the tone of her voice, artists are introverts like that, leaving all emotions to splash out in their work.
I stumbled on my speech, reciting my Southern African heritage, our collective colonial history and a culture that has remained somewhat unshaken in the face of a dark history. Marion knew what I was on about, of course she did, she had lived in Southern Africa for years observing African lives and cultures and summing them up in her art. I was immediately at home with her, I felt I could trust her with our culture, that she would always portray the truth, even if the truth is not always pleasant.
In documenting the stories of these communities, Marion did not seek to invoke pity or misery, she wanted to tell the story of their beautiful natural skins, their hair, fabrics and smiles, the kind you may never see in a glossy magazine, and in doing so she shaped the narrative of everyday African women and who we truly are.
“How much is this piece?” Emma Menell from Tyburn Gallery asked me the next day when I returned for another dose of Marion’s work.
“Are you sitting down?” I turned to look at Emma and smiled.
Above photo credit to Art-Co Gallery and top photo credit to Marion Boehm’s FB page.
Thank you to Marion Boehm and the team at Art-Co Gallery
Director of Tribal Sands
Above photo credit to Art-Co Gallery