COMMANDER NEL'S ARCHIVE
Nel and officers
Commander Nel’s Archive features a repetitive motif of an amorphic buffalo–headed figure. The buffalo’s head has a literal link to the 32 Battalion’s insignia and was first used by Helena in her performance Tchigangi, .
In Times of Innocence
Kutala Chopeto collective consists of Helena Uambembe and Teresa Kutala Firmino. This is their performance at the Point Of Order in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, South Africa on World Refugee Day. The day honours the strength and perseverance of the millions of people displaced around the world. Exhibition in collaboration with Maren Mia du Plessis, Setumo-Thebe Mohlomi, Loyiso Mzamane and Christiano Selmo Uambembe in collaboration with Goethe-Institut Project Space in Johannesburg
Photograph: John Hoggt
Like a hand–carved mask or ornament, the buffalo head at first represented death, but its meaning has evolved as the dialogue in her work has unfolded and become more complex over time. The character of Tchigangi is layered, as are the traits of the 32 Battalion. The figure is a kind of spiritual presence, a monster, a ghost.
In 2016 Helena visited the former Commanding Officer of the 32 Battalion, Gert Nel, and he showed her his personal archive of military images. Helena’s 2018-19 lithographic series Confidential Histories was her initial exploration of this interaction.
Helena specifically explores the archive of images given to her by Commander Nel, grappling with the content and, through the pronto plate lithographic print process, disrupting both his images and his perspectives. Similarly, the text elements found in the works have evolved from Helena’s notebooks, notes taken from research, interviews and thoughts.
Helena Uambembe and Sarah Judge cropping As Meninas in the David Krut Workshop. Helena Uambembe spent a number of weeks with our team of printmakers.
Helena specifically explores the archive of images given to her by Commander Nel, grappling with the content and, through the pronoto plate lithographic print process, disrupting both his images and his perspectives.
In this body of work Helena used the technique of pronto lithography combined with chine collé, collage and hand work to create a series of experimental unique prints.
Polyester plate or “pronto plate” lithography is an immediate and often playful printing process that offers a non-toxic option for artists to incorporate visual elements as disparate as photography, digital designs and hand–drawn illustrations.
Roxy Kaczmarek is the leading printmaker in our collaboration with Helena.
To make the matrix, the artists image is either printed digitally using a digital printer or can be drawn directly onto the polyester plate. Gum Arabic and water is then applied to the plate and an oil–based lithographic ink is used to capture the image. It is then possible to print the image multiple times onto high quality archival printing paper. In Helena’s case, a selection of delicate papers was used to offer the possibility of collage and translucent overlay.
Tchigangi serves as a crucial reminder that, despite the public-facing, grandiose performance that often accompanies the military establishment, the reality of the personal and private impact of war tells a very different story involving death and the upturning of the lives of those who are not directly involved – perhaps most significantly, the lives of women and children.