Sunday, 4 September 2016

'Congo delft', cobalt on porcelain paintings

Ann-Marie Tully, Congo delft: there be dragons. Porcelain, cobalt. 
180mm (H) x 235mm (W) x 30mm (D) 

This delft-style porcelain plaque breaks with the ceramic blue-ware tradition of ‘easy' decorative subject matter, employing more challenging cultural subject matter: in this instance a representation of mercenary troops from South Africa during the 1960’s Congo mercenary war, drawn from a personal archive. The source image does not include a river scene, which is included in the artwork to forge a ink with Joseph Conrad's harrowing tome of a journey up the Congo river in 1890, The Heart of Darkness. The presence of an oriental dragon - such as might be found in oriental blue-ware - in the Congo river, front the mercenary soldiers standing on a barge, is a reference to the inclusion of dragon images and the phrase 'here be dragons’ at the edges of old European maps, indicating unknown regions, and fear of the unknown. This fear of the non-western world is central to Conran’s book, and was certainly a theme for soldiers during the 1960’s Congo Mercenary war. The dragon on this plaque represents this fear, but also the threat imposed by colonialism in Africa - in particular the brutal history of Belgian colonialism in the Congo; and the American imperialism that operated surreptitiously behind the scenes of the 1960’s Congo mercenary war. While the mercenaries are a poised counterpoint to the dragon in the image, they are not the 'dragons' of this tale, rather they represent compromised figures, mere mortals in the grip of titanic political actions. This is an important theme of this body of work: asserting the mirky grey line* of human pursuit in the deluge of time.

*The 'grey line' is the term for the band around the Earth that separates daylight from darkness.

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