This is Hentie van der Merwe’s second solo exhibition at NEL, following his mid-Covid (2020) Shooting Selves, featuring a series of conté drawings on paper based on selfshots, found on the internet, of people gazing at their own image, as if in mirrors.

The current exhibition is again underpinned by the same motif of selfshots, however in this new body of work Van der Merwe continues to explore the theme, and in diverse mediums; etching, watercolour – as well as ink on paper, oil on canvas, and (as with his first exhibition at Nel) conté and charcoal on paper. In these new works, of male faces staring directly out at the viewer, Van der Merwe presents both individual faces as well as images wherein he layered different selfshots on top of each other, arriving at images that are at once specific and generic. Images wherein process, technique and medium play an important role in how the image came into being.

The act of self-observation or the gaze directed at the self, captured by means of the cell-phone camera, intended for public consumption via the internet, gets dramatized and complicated in these new works of Van der Merwe’s, informed by the artist’s interest in theories such as Lacan’s ‘mirror stage’ to bell hooks’ ‘oppositional gaze’, to mention but a few. The gaze has increasingly become the subject of this new body of works; the gaze as an act of rebellion, an act of assertion, but also an act of submission, the gaze in its relation to both power and pleasure.

The grid is ever present in all the works on display, a motif carried over from Van der Merwe’s first solo show at Nel; the grid as a plotting device in the making of the images, but also in reference to the matrix or “mother”(womb), as well as the grid as a diagram of power, as in Foucault’s ‘grid of intelligibility’ and Judith Butler’s ‘heteronormative grid’. Hentie Van Der Merwe is cognizant of all these instances of the grid and is open to them being applied to the images that so clearly rely on the grid.

All paintings are titled SelfShot

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