The Jacob's Ladder series was a direct consequence of a taxi hand sign (a zap sign) that was given to me in error, or perhaps as a joke! Shortly thereafter, Jacob Zuma made the zap sign when he exited the court after being acquitted of rape charges. (This hand gesture could be seen as a phallic machine gun, as the machine gun song, Umshini wami, is believed to be Zuma’s revolutionary trademark). It made me think that politicians and other high profile individuals are recognized by symbols that have a positive or negative valence, and are generally reductive or simplistic. These leaders in effect become caricatures, who are either revered and or reviled by millions. We put people on a pedestal as if they are demi-gods and are just as quick to send them to the bottom of the ladder when their faults are revealed. The people who exemplify this hero-villain syndrome are Jacob Zuma, Winnie Mandela, P W Botha, Evita (Pieter Dirk Uys) and Robert Mugabe. One sculpture, "On the Other Hand" represents the judging public. The traditional Snakes and Ladders game on which the series was based was a metaphor the trivial, media-driven and yet profoundly moral dimensions of our political life. The sculptures aim to encourage questions about our own values in the adoration or judgement of others.
The artworks draw attention to how we and the media in general judge politicians and other well know individuals. the Jacob's Ladder sculptures embody the persona of selected politicians. The story of Jacob's Ladder in the Old Testament is about the sensitivity of purpose in bettering ourselves as we go up the ladder and the possibility of bettering the world around us when we are on the lower rungs. It is also an aggressive story about stolen identities, flight, perception and judgement. These aspects are explored in the artworks.
The people chosen to represent our judgments are Jacob Zuma, Winnie Mandela, P W Botha, Evita (Pieter Dirk Uys) and Robert Mugabe. One sculpture is entitled "On the Other Hand" turns everthing upsidedown by having us being judged by others.
Positive and negative symbols characterise highly recognised individuals whose reputations are established and who are both revered and as much disliked, by millions. We put people on a pedestal as if they are demi-gods and are just as quick to see them at the bottom of the ladder when they turn out not to be perfect.
And yet to refrain from judgment does not mean to refrain from humanity - when it is clear that people are suffering, one should have the courage to speak out and take action. This is why I have concentrated on Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe in the exhibition.
One of the sculptures relating to the Zimbabwean situation uses the Zimbabwean National 'eagle' (a watermark on the Zim dollar). The actual raptor is a rare and beautiful bird. The image of a bird usually represents flight and freedom. In this case, I have used the bird symbol for an aggressive function - throttling the opening to the unusable 'vessal' (representing empty tummies) made of shredded worthless dollars.
Aggression is shown in the forceful 'Zap' sign used in the sculptures. The middle finger and the hand sometimes represent not only the person, but in the Mugabe works it is also the constricted 'lifeline' of a nation. These works are based on several anthropological transcripts of life history interviews done with migrants and entitled No Voice. I have downloaded the The Bill of Rights and deleted every word that has to do with human rights. The video presentation entitled "No Voice" uses those very words to obliterate the 'voice' of the migrant.
Nevertheless, in all the art works, I draw from the idea in Jacob's Ladder that even when one is at the lower part of Jacob's ladder it can be positive. By doing good on earth amongst one's fellow man, one can move upward on the ladder of life.