Looking closely by candle light

In this research, I study the work by contemporary South African artist, Johannes Phokela, in relation to the Western art historical canon. I undertake a close analysis of his painting Candle Bathing (1997) that quotes Samson and Delilah (1609-1610) by the seventeenth century Flemish Baroque painter, Peter Paul Rubens. Through a comparative analysis and close looking I read Candle Bathing’s ‘visual argument’ within a postcolonial context. To argue that Candle Bathing is not a mere ‘quotation’ I look closely from multiple angles. To deal with the complexity of a quotation that crosses socio-political time and space, I interpret the painting from various theoretical frameworks: poststructuralism (semiotics), postmodernism (irony); and postcolonial theory to situate my contextual analysis. I am interested in how we can read beyond the literal and how a close reading of this ironic quotation can surface the complexities of contemporary South African art in relation to the art historical canon and colonialism. Through close looking I read Candle Bathing as addressing the art canon, colonialism, critiquing issues of race, and marginalisation. This research contributes to filling a knowledge based gap by researching a previously marginalised artist and a close engagement with Candle Bathing. In addition, this research offers a way of looking and a method on how to begin looking closely at contemporary African art quoting canonical works. I illustrate the value of close looking to read multifaceted and layered interpretations.
A Research Report submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in History of Art to the Faculty of Humanities at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 2016
Oosthuysen, Zandri (2016) Looking closely by candle light, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, <http://hdl.handle.net/10539/21863>