skulls: a group exhibition

dirk bahmann, richard forbes, peter mammes, rhett martyn, maxwell & neil nieuwoudt and johan thom

opening: thu 18 aug 6-8pm | concludes: sat 17 sep 10am – 2pm





“The human head, which is built around the skull, is seen as the seat of all human faculties, the finest as well as the most wicked. The centre of [wo/]man’s talent, the centre of [wo/]man’s achievement. Yet, when stripped from its appendages, the skull is a symbol of death, destruction, a symbol of danger. Here is a contradiction, why? It becomes diametrically opposed, the exact opposite pole to what it is in life.”

Neels Coetzee (Coetzee 1990:242)

‘Skulls’ is an exhibition of artworks that look at how artists interpret and experience the variety of uses or meanings of the human skull. Artists are invited to propose work that looks at the symbolic use and philosophical significance of the skull. In fine art there is a venerable tradition of using the skull as a formal or conceptual aesthetic element. The skull is not only the architecture of the face; it is also an object in a painting, a memento mori or a reminder of mortality. It is simultaneously an object and something immaterial that cannot be perceived by the senses. It is used in many different contexts across different cultures and has meanings and associations that are both about life as well as death.

During the Renaissance paintings that were painted in the vanitas style were reminders to its viewers that life is transient, pleasure is futile and death is certain. In contrast, Mexico has a national holiday, celebrated each year called ‘Day of the Dead’. Skulls and skeletons adorn lively celebrations specifically in memory of the departed. Similarly, the Catholic Church celebrates ‘All Saints’ Day’ which commemorates those who have attained Beatific vision (having met God face to face). The day after the departed faithful are commemorated who have not yet attained purification and reached Heaven.

Recent examples of works include Damien Hirst’s “For the Love of God”; Kendell Geers’“Fuck Face”; Guy du Toit’s “Tower of skulls” and Neels Coetzee’s beautiful formal compositions of the skull recently on show at the Circa Gallery.