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Indra Wussow chats to South African artist Jaco van Schalkwyk about the landscape, paradise, funeral rites and the body of work on show at this year’s FNB JoburgArtFair 2016

AA Newsletter 2016 FNBJoburgArtFair Barnard1Jaco van Schalkwyk, Nature Morte – Tondo. Oil on Belgian linen, 89 cm diameter. All images courtesy of the artist and Barnard Gallery, Cape Town.

Indra Wussow: From Eden to Arcadia? 

Jaco van Schalkwyk: Eden was a body of work about my idea of paradise in exploring common religious and artistic concepts through the means of landscape painting. The new body of work called Arcadia is a seven-panel painting installation with architectural reference to an arcade. Et in Arcadia ego (I too am in Arcadia). These works confront us with our mortality and the mystery of death by juxtaposing the horror of nothingness with the idealised, romanticised landscapes of our imagination as well as of our longing. 

From Sylt to Bali – why did you choose island landscapes and how much does exoticism play a role in your Balinese artistic experience? 

In my view islands have become the epitome of the unknown and unconscious, a place where you are confronted with your own fears and preconceived ideas of a place. These two islands evoke a lot of imagination and at the same time have become famous tourist destinations. Questioning our perception of Utopia, I wanted to travel beyond the superficial concepts of these places, and in so doing, challenge our idea of the exotic and the other; the notion that paradise is found in the beauty of exotic landscapes and lives. 

AA Newsletter 2016 FNBJoburgArtFair Barnard2Jaco van Schalkwyk, Arcadia, 2016. Oil on Belgian linen, 175 x 130 cm.

How did you implement your concepts artistically?

I travelled to the Terunyan Village on lake Batur, one of the oldest cultural sites in Bali, and witnessed their unique funeral rites where bodies are laid underneath a tree called Taru Menyan (tree of fragrant incense). My series of work portrayed Memento Mori imagery and showed how human bodies have become part of nature again. The skulls I depicted are in this case natural graves in a natural circle of life but could also be read to depict the horror of human destruction when you think of the Stupa and the skulls of the victims of the Khmer Rouge. 

Later I concentrated specifically on landscapes that still suggest death being immanent and shaping it through the decomposing body. The presence of smoke in these works plays with the notion of danger – the forest fire and its destructive nature – but also suggests ‘the passage into another realm’ and so there is a religious narrative. It seems appropriate that this body of work will also be shown at the ARMA Museum in Ubud, Bali in April 2017; a return to their place of origin where they can be seen by the Balinese people. 

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