Words: Sarah Jayne Fell
Images: Courtesy of UCA Gallery
Christopher Slack’s art evokes the current global preoccupation with East versus West politics and the role that mass media plays in juggling our viewpoints on the issue. His paintings of bikini-clad pinup girls straddling television sets and brandishing large weapons are treated with hyperrealistic precision and set against saturated enamel backgrounds, a combination which commands attention in much the same way that contemporary advertising does.
Born-and-bred Capetonian Chris Slack cuts to the political chase with these Chicks with Guns. His pre-9/11 series are entitled ‘Anna’ and ‘Angie’, and look more like Bond or Tarantino girls with their Police sunglasses and semi-automatic weapons. Now, his post-War-on-Terror works star ‘Shamila’, a lovely Muslim waif complete with veil and Sanskrit henna tattoos. Evidently, ‘P’ and ‘C’ are two letters seldom juxtaposed on Slack’s double-edged tongue.
But it is not perhaps too evident? It’s hard not to see that these are deliberate, even desperate, attempts to propagate shock value in an age in which news is entertainment for many and violence is as commonplace as, well, just switch on the telly and you’ll see violence is pretty much as commonplace as you get these days. On second thought, maybe that’s the point.
“This is a world where religious symbolism collides with the mundane (Elvis is Jesus), and where tragedy and horror stories have marketing potential”, explains Slack.
Through his art, he points at the way America stereotypes itself and the rest of the world through mass media, and the way mass media reduces everything to the same value. This in turn makes it increasingly difficult for us to differentiate between right and wrong, and simplistic to choose sides; especially, when the bulk of our information comes from one of those sides.
“One has to somehow find an accommodation for this sense of ambivalence, where contradictory points of view can co-exist”, says Slack. This attempt (and possibly the impossibility of it) can be seen in his works that, on the surface, present an East-meets-West pastiche, but in fact go far beyond that. Beyond the blatant shock factor, behind Slack’s intentional use of cheap effects to make violence more acceptable through humour, lies an intricate web of questions permeating the multifaceted complexities of power, gender, religion, and culture. Questions of how each culture objectifies ‘its’ women, despite opposing inclinations to cover up or expose; how each treats weaponry as fashion accessory; how each condemns the other according to its own decree.
And so, in an assertion that at first seems to contradict his work, but which on deliberation is really at its crux, Slack notes: “One should guard against the tendency to define everything according to one’s own terms. Imposing labels upon that which one doesn’t understand is merely a convenient cover for one’s ignorance and prejudice. One should be content to allow the mysterious to remain what it is.”
Enough said then.
Christopher Slack’s fifth solo exhibition takes place at UCA Gallery in Observatory, Cape Town from 1 April – 2 May, 2009.
Click here to see the pdf of the article as published in one small seed magazine issue 14, mar-apr-may 2009.