EXHIBITION: Jacob’s Ladder - Susan Woolf’s new solo exhibition, Jacob’s Ladder, is likely to get a few people a little hot under the collar. It is both political and contentious and Woolf has done little to skirt around the big issues, challenging her audience to question their own values while examining each of the sculptures, writes Annette Bayne
VENUE: Artspace Gallery, Rosebank until November 27
Six of the sculptures represent five public figures with powerful viewpoints and as many supporters as they have detractors: Jacob Zuma, Winnie Mandela, Robert Mugabe, Evita Bezuidenhout and PW Botha. Woolf has chosen to use the offensive middle finger sign to represent power and has then adorned each finger with representations of that person using symbols taken from the original game of Moksha-Patamu or “Snakes and Ladders”.
Also using the imagery from the biblical story of Jacob’s ladder, Woolf challenges the audience to judge where on the ladder each of the people represented are – or perhaps in your mind they are sliding down the snake.
But the final sculpture, called On The Other Hand, represents those who stand in judgement. This green sculptured hand questions the audience as to where they are on the ladder, if in fact they are there at all.
Jacob’s Ladder initially began with the work Woolf was doing on a taxi hand signal book. Misinformed about the signal, she began carving the original hand out of jacaranda wood.
Woolf thought she was creating one of the signs to Joburg. She was soon put straight but now had a half carved “zap sign”. Then, during the Jacob Zuma rape trial, she noticed that Zuma used the hand gesture as a show of power in response to his supporters.
She had also picked up this gesture in other politicians, and so began her work.
The other six sculptures are created from coloured silicone. The sculpture exhibition is complemented with other work that reflects the artist’s response to the growing economic crisis in Zimbabwe, xenophobic violence and the atrocities committed by the Mugabe government.