Jacob's Ladder

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Artist Susan Woolf poses some challenging political questions in her latest solo exhibition, Jacob’s Ladder, which opens at Artspace on the 5 November 2008.

Like much of her works, Jacob’s Ladder is a controversial, politically loaded exhibition, layered with symbolism. In the current political climate Jacob’s Ladder is opportunely positioned to provoke thought and debate around what we expect from our political leaders.

Jacob’s Ladder will be opened by Beauty Ramepelepele, the alter ego of comedienne Ben Vos.

The work centres around the biblical story of Jacob’s Ladder. In his dream Jacob envisioned a ladder reaching from the earth to the heavens. We are all at different levels on the rungs of the ladder. Being on earth at the lower part of the ladder also means that we have to constantly do good amongst our fellow man as we strive upwards. The title ‘Jacob’s ladder’ is open to a variety of interpretations. It may encourage questions about how we view each other, especially politicians and famous people who we personally judge as either extremely good or bad. An aspect of Jacob’s Ladder  can be seen as an element of prayer where the rungs of the latter going up lead to more intense prayers, leading to a closer relationship with G-d. No matter where you are on the ladder, either going up or down, you can better oneself - and that applies to everybody.

Woolf has juxtaposed this with the ancient Hindu morality game of Moksha-Patamu, (known to Westerners as Snakes and Ladders). In this game. ladders symbolise the positive actions that lead up to heaven and the snakes symbolise the negative actions that lead down to torment.

Woolf has created seven sculptures (of silicon, steel, aluminium, jacaranda wood and sharp blades) and several paintings (pastel on paper, Rooibos teabags and ink) as well as graphic digital edition artwork.

Each sculpture is a different coloured hand mounted on a steel ‘ladder’. They are based on a carved wooden sculpture of Jacob Zuma’s hand as he exited court during his rape trial, where he raised his arm and made a hand sign as a show of power. This hand sign is considered both a sign of triumph, and a commonly understood zap sign. Woolf has taken this contentious, politically and socially charged gesture and applied it to six major controversial African figures: Jacob Zuma, Evita (Pieter Dirk Uys), Winnie Mandela, Robert Mugabe and P. W. Botha.

Says Woolf, “These individuals were chosen because they are people in the public arena who have both powerful viewpoints and many supporters as well as many vocal detractors. The Jacob Zuma work is carved from Jacaranda wood and was the basis for all the others, which were each cast in various silicones, adjusted and hand-worked.  Zuma’s ladder contains a snake and a ladder The question as to which direction he is going is, is one for the viewers to decide ."