If you’re familiar with the Johannesburg art scene, you’ve likely encountered the works of Gina Waldman. The Johannesburg-based mixed-media artist is known for her complex, material-heavy works that grapple with notions of perfection, excess, consumerism, femininity, nostalgia, and the quintessentially kitsch.
Waldman’s had numerous solo and group exhibitions, has work in a variety of private and commercial collections and developments, and has also worked in the realms of fashion through her own label. Recently, the artist also exhibited a selection of works at the 2020 Latitudes Art Fair.
We caught up with Waldman for a Q&A about her earliest memories of artmaking, unpacking the notion of ‘women’s work’ through craft, and her experience of creating and thinking about art in a year of isolation and virtual exhibitions.
Creative Feel: First off, can you tell us a bit about your earliest memories of artmaking?
Gina Waldman: I grew up in a family that used to go to art exhibitions on weekends instead of malls so it’s no wonder that my two sisters and I all majored in Fine Arts degrees. My eldest sister is nine years my elder, so I was very exposed at about age nine to art students and art student thinking which of course shapes one. In our house, the art materials were free and flowing. We all grew up in a very creative environment where art and design were really cherished. Our creative nursery school teacher mom always had a project for us and designer dad was a maker and fixer. I always obsessively made things, one after the other.
CF: One of the points of inquiry into your work has always been the notion of ‘women’s work’ which you’ve explored largely through the medium of craft. Do you think our ideas of craft and women’s work, or women’s values has changed over the years?
GW: Oh, definitely. I think that Western women’s work has historically been used as a device in patriarchal society to curb womens’ creativity and make her think “in the box”. Women have been given patterns to make, templates to embroider and the subject matter is always repetitive with a saccharin sweet theme. Not only has this written women out of the art history canon but it has also been very well used as a means to control a woman’s leisure time. Tapestries – made in the domestic realm by women have a paint-by-number aesthetic and are judged at how “good” the crafter is by how well she uses thread to colour in the lines. Never would these objects be considered art and displayed in museums and galleries, nor would their makers be authored. The pieces would be laboured upon for hour after hour and there would be no signature and not much value to the piece. I think currently, women (and men for that matter) have been adopting techniques used in women’s work to comment on patriarchy. It has become a tool to deconstruct and use as material to comment on gender identity.
CF: Another recurring theme in your work is that of excess. When working with the idea of excess or limitlessness, how do you arrive at a point where you know the work is complete?
GW: Its tricky. I make obsessively and I don’t always know when to stop but I am getting better at this balance as time goes by. I think my capacity to make work is very big. Some artists can make one work in a few years. I feel like the work pours out of me sometimes.
CF: Can you tell us a bit about the works you exhibited as part of Latitudes this year?
GW: The work I have chosen to show on the Latitudes platform are all very large-scale works. I find already made tapestries mostly on auction, in second-hand shops which in itself is interesting to me that they are not highly valued. I then cut them up and work with them like I am painting with the tapestry threads to recreate a brand-new image – sometimes abstract, sometimes with figurative elements. The act of “painting” with them for me is very important.
CF: How has the global pandemic affected your practice this year?
GW: I have always worked from a home studio so I think the main thing about being in lockdown was home schooling and not having that time to make in the morning when my son is usually at school. I think this slowed me down and it was a very good thing for my work in general as I feel like I have had a lot of time to plan what’s next.
CF: Similarly, challenging the idea of perfection in an artwork, as well as a strong emphasis on materiality is central to your practice. Has viewing and engaging with art and art spaces, virtually, shifted your understanding of these things at all?
GW: I think it is a new, exciting mode of display and more interestingly, globally we have so much more access to work – viewing art and collecting will never be the same. However, I do think the online platform is better for viewing some artworks than others. Overall, it has been so valuable to the artist, gallerist, collector and viewer. I do feel however that work has to be experienced as well and I do miss that feeling of being in front of an artwork and feeling absorbed by it and not just visually stimulated by it.
Find more of Waldman’s works on her website.