About this item
MICHELE SPATARI (IT, 1991)
Ballads from the end of the Desert: Helen Martin Owl House (2021)
Print on Hahnemühle Photo Rag Papers
21 × 29.7 cm / 8.2 x 11.6 in
Ballads from the End of the Desert
“This story sounds a bit unbelievable, but it happened a very long time ago. It happened before there were towns like Graaff-Reinet or Nieu-Bethesda. Before there were farms and permanent settlements. It happened when people were the intruders and the land belonged to the wild.” Nieu-Bethesda Fables, Egbert Gerryts. In Graaff-Reinet, Johan makes his way through the thick path of his succulent nursery, one of the biggest in the world. Once a criminal lawyer dispatched to the Karoo from Johannesburg to defend ANC freedom fighters, the tall of a life passed side by side with vicious crimes made him cut tie with the world. Waiting to abandon even more, leaving behind even his last possessions and yearning for the day the man who inhabits the house he bought in Nieu-Bethesda would die. In Victoria West, packs of nervous amateur players sweep like locusts a golf course where motor oil is poured around holes to make the putting green, wide black circles in the scorched earth. Out of town, Swarms of locusts thicken the air, ‘they were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.” In Nieu-Bethesda, a feared God shines out of the biblical sculpted world of the enigmatic Helen Martin, who devoted her last thirty years converting her family home into a unique fantasy world, which she named the Owl House. Black inked tattoos peek out from the earth-colored shirt Joy is wearing while wondering outside her shack on the outskirt of town, so similar to Helen Martins’ creatures but made armful by the young woman bright, vivid eyes. Ballads from the End of the Desert is the first chapter of a visual exploration of the desertic and semi-desertic landscape of South Africa. An atlas of places and stories tied together by the ephemeral, the wild, the unknown. A space where the boundary of reality intertwines with magic, a time for dreamers and loners.
About the artist
Michele Spatari is a documentary photographer based in Johannesburg. He mainly works for AFP - Agence France-Presse in Southern Africa and he is a Canon Ambassador. His photographic and documentarian practice has been influenced by his architectural background and it is now focused on the study of bodies and space: how politics, religions and social rituals shape contemporary societies. His long-term project Rising Water about public showers and housing crisis in Turin won the 2018 Canon Italy Young Photographer Award - Multimedia and has been exhibited at Cortona On The Move Festival, Geopolis - Centre du Photojournalisme, Lumix Festival and Galerie f 3, among others. In 2019 he has been selected by Canon Europe as the Italian representative in Visions from Europe, an artistic residency for Matera European Capital of Culture 2019. In 2020 Michele has been assigned by Cortona On The Move Festival to document the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa. His work has been featured on various international media outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, TIME, Le Monde, Libération, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, El País, Internazionale, amidst others.
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