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26.10.23 - 26.11.23



Text by Lerato Tshabalala

One of the essential tools to character building in storytelling is ‘interiority’. It is going into a character’s inner world in order to give context to their story. Places, events, and inanimate objects can all add to understanding a character’s thoughts and feelings. 

A key component to narrative interiority is recognising inflection points in a character’s life, without spelling out every emotion attached to a memory. Interiority poses questions, it is not finite. A moment of interiority gives meaning to memories, it takes a small and fleeting experience and tattoos it in the mind’s eye. But outside of the literary context, the word interiority means “being private, inward or introspective”. The word also being linguistically adjacent to interior design is the kind of double entendre that Marlene Steyn is known for both in her art and poetry. 

Home Bodies is Steyn’s fourth exhibition with SMAC Gallery and is the artist’s exploration of the home as a sanctuary, an oasis of dreams, love and the otherworldly. Her last solo exhibition with the gallery was in 2020 and since then she’s become a mother and the theme of life and evolution is one that narrates this exhibit.

Foliage has always been a major feature in Steyn’s work, but in Home Bodies life and green things sprout and grow from every part of this work that honours cocooning. From cacti and bonsai plants to ferns and flowers in vases, Home Bodies serves as a montage of the little things in life that paint the bigger picture. From the seemingly mundane – a pet lying resplendent in bed next to its sleeping owner – to the frivolous moments of fashion and play, each interior scene is a window into rooms that flow in and out of each other, distorting and enhancing the view. 

As Steyn aptly describes, “homes are green houses for growth”. The feminine body as the genesis of life is expressed through the different spaces that Steyn’s characters allow us a tiny peak into. Beyond women’s bodies as homes for growing humans, Steyn extends the body as a physical home, to the inside of a domestic dwelling before zooming out into the outside world where Mother Nature – our ultimate home – synthesises the unconscious with the celestial. In Endorsing the Indoorsy she examines the body requiring physical activity, rest and community for the nervous system to operate optimally. Self-care is explored in Presently in My Past Life, with meditation and solitude as an antidote to a busy bodied existence. While in the lockdown inspired, Lock Up and Stay, the elements of water and fire make an appearance as sources of warmth and respite.

“The body is the ultimate truthteller,” says Steyn. The ‘chaotic calm’ that forms the visually complex scenes in Home Bodies reveals a softness and vulnerability we haven’t yet seen in Steyn’s work. The staircasing of emotions, the fluidity of the interior scenes and the tenderness with which the artist portrays the home in its various permutations, is the kind of artistic elevation that makes Steyn’s paintings so transformative. 

A microcosm of worlds and alternate realities, Home Bodies espies what could be dismissed as nugatory moments into nuanced scenes of the human experience. What Steyn achieves with this body of work is to ask each of us which parts of our lives we’re watering. Because the areas you pour yourself into will grow and bloom into whatever nightmare or paradise you conjure up. On a scientific level the body is just neurons firing at the same time to create experiences, but human beings are also the mind, hormones, emotions, and our bodies are inextricably linked to others. Steyn transmutes the home from a physical entity into a state of consciousness that connects you to everything and nothing all at once. 

Home Bodies opens the door to our own interiority and directs us to listen to the stories we’re telling ourselves about our lives. 

Liberating ourselves from the ego that needs to peacock its way to significance, means forming a deeper connection with the one thing that never stops talking back to us from the time we’re born. The poet and author, Rupi Kaur, writes beautifully about the journey into the self… 

i dive into the well of my body

and end up in another world 

everything i need 

already exists in me 

there’s no need to look anywhere else 

- home

Text by Lerato Tshabalala

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