Cape Town artist explores diseased body in new exhibition

Marguerite Kirsten. Picture: Supplied

The exhibition takes a deep dive into the physiological experience of living with a chronic or serious illness.

Capetonian fine artist and winner of the 2018 Pan-African Absa L’Atelier Art Competition Marguerite Kirsten has opened her new show, Dignifying the Diseased Body, via livestream.

Kirsten won the overall Absa L’Atelier Award in 2018 for her very personal installation Embodiment, a collection of 50 glass containers of her urine.

Having lived with chronic kidney disease, among other medical conditions, Kirsten used her experience of living in a “blunted” body as a starting point for her work, which is informed by the internal workings and “disappointment” of her body.

“I use various bodily fluids, including my urine and blood, and intravenous fluids, to represent the transient nature of my body in my work. These materials decay over time, reminding viewers of their own visceral flesh,” explained Kirsten.

By using liquid, glass and copper as a medium, Kirsten intended to strengthen and dignify her physical body in the face of ongoing objectification and scrutiny, as she believed “my body has become an instrument of the medical fraternity”.

Marguerite Kirsten. Picture: Supplied

These are just some of the words used to describe Kirsten’s work.

Her new exhibition, Dignifying the Diseased Body, comprises large wall hangings and installations. The exhibition takes a deep dive into the physiological experience of living with a chronic or serious illness.

In this work, she continues to make use of organic substances by working primarily with her urine, organic material like dissected kidney and mohair, and medical materials, like latex gloves and syringes.

Dr Paul Bayliss, senior specialist art curator at Absa Gallery, said: “Marguerite has a special ability to convey the emotions that accompany living in a vulnerable state with a chronic illness. Her work is brave and passionate, much like the values we embody as a financial institution.

“Absa L’Atelier is not just a once-off win for our contestants but a journey that we walk with them. It’s recognised as a launchpad for a successful career in the visual arts, as clearly evidenced by previous winners.”

‘Embodiment’ by Marguerite Kirsten. Picture: Supplied

Absa L’Atelier is one of Africa’s most recognised art competitions, and 2021 will see the 35th iteration of the competition. This year’s competition has been cancelled.

Held in conjunction with the South African National Association for the Visual Arts, Absa L’Atelier serves as a platform for young artists to make their mark in the African art world.

Absa L’Atelier rewards young visual artists with the opportunity to develop their talents abroad and the benefits and experience they enjoy by participating.

Kirsten, as the winner, enjoyed a six-month residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris, among other benefits.

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