Bronwyn Katz’s Intricate Sculptures Excavate Traces of Colonial Violence in South Africa

Growing up in the small town of Kimberley, South Africa—home to the world’s largest hand-dug diamond mine—was formative for Bronwyn Katz, whose sculptural practice is one of excavation. Some of Katz’s materials, among them stone, copper, and iron ore, are literally extracted from the earth; when she uses found objects, she performs a metaphorical extraction, digging out meaning and history. Her intricate, earthy-hued sculptures explore how memory, especially collective memory of colonial violence, is stored in, retained by, and reflected in mundane objects like pot scourers and bedsprings.

I first encountered her sculptures made of pot scourers and bedsprings in 2019, shortly after she completed her studies at the University of Cape Town, when she was working out of a shared space in the quiet suburb of Doornfontein. By 2022, when one of her large bedspring sculptures appeared in the Venice Biennale, she was already perfecting her techniques in reduction and excavation. In Untitled, notes on perception (i), 2018, the piece that underpinned her 2018 solo exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, irregular lengths of wire hang vertically like lines scribbled in space. While in residence in Paris, she observed how physical and cultural barriers excluded and marginalized minority communities in neighborhoods like Château Rouge. In her work, she probed the cartographic, geological, and geopolitical connotations of lines—how they are used to mark boundaries on maps, and how, in turn, those boundaries exclude and dispossess.

Listen beautiful relax classics on our Youtube channel.

Installation shot of a sculpture mounted to a gallery wall compromised of salvaged bedspring, pot scourers and wire organized into vertical formations.
Bronwyn Katz: !Noas (Porcupine star), 2020.

Katz, who now lives and works in Cape Town, is also a member of iQhiya, an 11-woman artist collective based there and in Johannesburg. During Documenta 14, the collective performed The Portrait (2017): Members stood barefoot on top of glass bottles for as long as they could endure it; one by one, they stepped off as the pain became unbearable. The piece reflects on the violence society enacts upon Black women.

In her work, Katz often explores forgotten indigenous languages and histories of land dispossession, referring explicitly to her hometown of Kimberley and to !Ora, one among many Khoekhoe and Nama languages at risk of extinction in South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana. Her 2021 exhibition at White Cube in London included a series of vivid sculptures made of pot scourers colored in luminous yellows, greens, and pinks. The works are titled in !Ora. Such work has won Katz acclaim: in 2021 she was shortlisted for the Future Generation Art Prize, and this year, renowned Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui selected her as protégée for the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.

For a series she began during a residency at Gasworks in London last year, Katz turned her attention toward the undersurface of cities. Large parts of the UK are made up of chalk and limestone—sedimentary rocks that incorporate the shells and skeletons of sea creatures. Her 2022 sculpture ǁammũb (water-eye) (ii) is made from chalk she sourced from the White Cliffs of Dover, as well as sea moss and copper wire; its biomorphic form suggests a sea creature. Here as elsewhere, she points to surprising histories literally buried underground.


No votes yet.
Please wait...