Shany van den Berg’s exhibition Garden of her Dreams at Everard Read Gallery is the next chapter in her body of work related to femininity, spirituality and meditation.

By Matthew McClure

From 22 June to 22 July, Shany van den Berg is inviting you to spend some time in her garden. The artist’s new show is an evolution of her solo exhibition at Everard Read in London last year and sees the development of her primary themes of femininity, spirituality and meditation.

A selection of sculptural busts, completed as part of her London show, preside over this new body of work like spiritual guides. “The first artworks I made for this exhibition (Her Garden in London) were the three sculptures. They were the starting point and they ultimately fed into the paintings. I chose to close their eyes and imbue them with a meditative quality because I wanted there to be a serenity, a peacefulness about them.” For Garden of her Dreams, the artist has explored the topics of meditation and serenity even further in a series of larger than life paintings alive with brooding forms, flowers and fluttering birds.

The women in Shany’s new paintings, in contrast to her busts, have eyes that are wide open. These feminine forms rest in melancholic botanical dreamscapes and there is an unmistakable air of Classicism to their lines; something strongly reminiscent of Ingres’ Grande Odalisque or Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa and its writhing forms. I see Millais’ Ophelia in many of Shany’s women. Contemplative, retrospective, restful and darkly meditative, they do not perhaps possess the same sense of impending doom as Millais’ classic rendition of Shakespeare’s lovelorn character, but in both styles of work there is an undeniable and inevitable amalgamation of body and nature. The two become one.

Flowers have carried deep metaphorical significance for as long as humans have been around to attach it to them and floral motifs are everywhere in Shany’s work. Poppies, as far back as ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire, denoted death, sleeping and much later in the 20th Century were viewed as icons of remembrance; embellishing lapels as symbols of sacrifices during times of war. The rose has been adopted by Roman Catholicism as a signifier of purity, chastity and hope; its scented pastel petals most often decorating statues of the Virgin Mary.  Shany’s bountiful blooms leap out at you from smoulderingly dark backgrounds. Peace lilies, poppies and ferns writhe sinuously out of vases and urns. There is something more here than meets the eye and indeed, in the forms of her statuesque bronzes and mysteriously evocative female bodies there is a sense of ancient family genealogies, heredity and history intimately tied to nature. I sense that the ancestry of Shany’s family and its connection to the earth can be traced back through her paintings and sculptures.


Garden of her Dreams opened on 22 June at Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg and runs until 22 July.


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