February 2 through March 23, 2003
The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) presents a new work by South African artist Berni Searle. MATRIX 202: Berni Searle A Matter of Time is the artist's first solo museum exhibition in the United States. Searle's works, which include performative video, installation, and digital photography, address issues of both race and gender while engaging not only the viewer's vision but also hearing, touch, and smell. While many artists investigate similar themes, Searle's ability to reference her own past, and her use of her own body as both the subject and point of departure lends her work a powerful and poignant edge. A Matter of Time, a new work commissioned by BAM/PFA, will be on view from February 2 through March 23, 2003.
As a South African of native African and German-English descent, Searle was categorized as "coloured" during the Apartheid era. This informs much of her work, in which she uses her body to explore issues of self-representation. Searle often experiments with the surface of her skin as the site of identity, either obscuring it or changing its appearance to suggest both ambiguity and mutability. In her Colour Me series (1998 – 2000), Searle hangs enlarged digital images of her body coated in spices of various shades of red, brown, yellow, and white. Her use of spices refers to both her own mixed heritage and to the spice trade which brought European colonists to the Cape of Good Hope during the seventeenth century.
In Snow White (2001), a dual-screen, mural-size video projection, Searle kneels as flour is poured over her head until her entire body is covered in white – a suggestion of the visibility/invisibility of people of color within the Apartheid and other racist regimes. Searle then begins to knead the flour, making audible slapping sounds that seem to scold the viewer's attentiveness to her naked body. As she works, Searle's hands make a pattern of wings in the floor spread over the ground that resemble the snow angels made by children.
For her MATRIX exhibition, Searle has been commissioned to create a new performative video work. In A Matter of Time the artist stands in a Plexiglas box while olive oil is poured over her feet – a complex visual metaphor that refers in part to shifting and changing notions of identity. The exhibition will include a set of digital prints as well as a mural-sized projection.
Berni Searle was featured in the 2001 Venice Biennale, the 1998 Cairo Biennale where she was a prize winner, and the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art (Washington DC) and the South African National Gallery (Cape Town).
Sunday, February 2, 3 p.m.
Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, Phyllis Wattis MATRIX Curator
Thursday, February 20, 12:15 p.m.
Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson will discuss Searle's work in the context of contemporary feminist expression.