Mariapaola McGurk

Studio Artist: 

Mariapoala McGurk was born in Springs, South Africa in 1980. She currently lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa.

South Africa post-apartheid is a complex and dynamic place. The term “Rainbow Nation” given to this country by Desmond Tutu may have been necessary for the branding of a positive future, but it may also have been very idealistic, and in that idealism we may have become complacent and stopped asking fundamental questions.

I have been fascinated by those unasked questions and unnoticed realities for the past two years. It is not one specific issue, but many in this current society. As Farieda Nazier, who has just had a solo exhibition at The Apartheid Museum, stated

Fanon (1952) in his book titled “Black skin White masks” unpacks the devastating psychological consequences of colonialism and broader, racially oppressive political regimes. He coins a key concept referred to as the “colonisation of the mind” and identifies a resulting neuroses i.e. “black neuroses”. “Colonisation of the mind” is the process whereby the colonised, due to broader political racial inequalities, is violently dispossessed of physical, material and cultural effects (Hook, 2004b: 88).

Farieda is a Muslim coloured woman born in Cape Town. Her interests are similar to mine. We work in the same university, yet we come from opposite contexts of the same issue. I am a white woman born in Johannesburg. I, or my predecessors, were the colonisers. Although neither I, nor my family were actively behind apartheid, we benefited greatly from it: through education, opportunities, jobs. This effect is still very evident today.

My works challenge this psychological after-effect of apartheid and the stereotypes and issues that still linger. If, as a white person I am African, why do I mix mainly with whites? Why am I still a bit scared of townships? Why can I not speak an African language? I have begun making “paintings” out of beads as a new language. The Mlungu (white) Islands of South Africa is the beginning of an idea to represent statistically the ratio of whites to blacks in each province of South Africa. As a white person it is only in the cities that I feel at home. When I go into the rural areas I am seen as a foreigner: the kids stroke my hair and get very excited at a “mlungu” in their village. In The Invisible series I intend on producing works that will be transparent or see through. These works will represent the invisibility of the poverty that we see on our doorstep in the city. Not just the beggars, but the vendors, the amount of people walking, the men carrying plastic and digging in our dust bins. These works will be viewed via the shadows that they will cast.

I am intrigued by the social dynamic in this country: the extreme contrast in wealth, - the isolation through language, - the anger, - the racism. My works question what we as South Africans are doing to move away from our stereotypes and whether we are even aware of these stereotypes.

  • Mariapaola McGurk