Cape Town (ZA)

Penny Siopis

* 1953 in Vryburg, South Africa

lives and works in Cape Town, South Africa

Penny Siopis is one of South Africa’s most renowned filmmakers and artists. In addition to her films, which have been presented at numerous festivals including the Schmalfilmtage in Dresden in 2015, she works with the mediums of painting, photography and installation.

Since the 1980s, Penny Siopis has been criticizing the repercussions of colonialism and the apartheid regime in a concise and subtle manner in her works, linking personal and autobiographical memories with collective experiences, and critically questioning the social constitution of South Africa. Her interest often focuses on female characters, for example, in her photo work on Sartje Baartmann, a Khoi woman who was exhibited in human zoos in Europe in the early 19th century. Her body was ultimately taxidermied and is preserved, together with the casts taken of it, in the Musée de L’Homme in Paris. Her artistic engagement with history and remembrance makes her an important analyst of the history of South Africa and its colonial traces. With relatives in Greece, the South African artist grew up in the North Cape Province. After studying art at Rhodes University in Cape Town and Portsmouth Polytechnic, she held teaching positions at Natal Technikon in Durban and from 1984 at the University Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Today she teaches as an honorary professor at the Michaelis School of Fine Art of the University of Cape Town.




The video piece Lay Bare Beside shows the personal quest for an ethically appropriate handling of human remains in public and private collections and its failure. Penny Siopis recently inherited two skulls from a medical draftsman, in whose artistic work the skulls played an important role. The burial of the skulls marks the beginning of the artist’s endeavor to expose different levels of history: the drawing of body parts as a scientific practice and their origins, the unexplained source of the (real) skulls, and the handling of inherited objects. The work combines 8mm films that Siopis found at flea markets and charity shops with video sequences she shot herself. In texts, music and images, the film interweaves personal stories to a reflection on human remains.

In Boundary Things 1&2, found objects are combined with each other, the adoration of objects as relics and the beginnings of ethnographic collecting in Europe merge with echoes of colonialism and missionary work. Saint Rita, who is venerated by Catholics because of a bleeding wound on her forehead believed to have been caused by a thorn of Christ’s crown, stands on the cast of a foot. A hand touches a bone with an eye.