While the global pandemic restricted activity and movement in most spheres of life, including art exhibitions, some artists have been able to keep working in their studios despite the lockdowns. In fact, many artistic processes have begun to reflect on nationwide lockdowns, mask-wearing, curfews, and other Covid-19 related changes to our daily lives. Painter Nicky Marais describes her series of nine square paintings titled Opening Up:
Opening up 1-9, 2021, acrylic on paper, 295 x 295mm
“2020 was the year Covid 19 struck, a year we could not have imagined, and were not able to imagine even when we were in the middle of it. We were locked down, partially released, locked down again. Always thinking it would be over soon, hating the predictions of NEW NORMAL. In October when travel restrictions lifted and we could finally travel out of Windhoek, we went into the Kalahari. We stayed in a cottage facing the red dunes and walked over them on animal tracks and stared up at the stars and down at the patterns small creatures left in the sand. When I returned to my studio, I painted this series of houses Opening Up.
I must have known though, because when I look at this series of paintings, I see what everyone sees; open houses which are still closed, some of them holding graves. ”The duality of these paintings create a tension that resonates with many of us when we think about our lives since the onset of the pandemic. Marais’ eloquent use of visual forms creates shapes that are both abstract and relatable. The framing of each square by the lines and shapes making up a house or box are in dialogue with the interior and exterior spaces around them. The motifs are layered, drawing one shape into another, simultaneously setting up and disregarding the dichotomy of inside/outside. The tensions of locking down, opening up, being protected and being vulnerable play out across the painting’s surface, mimicking the difficulty of living in a global pandemic.
The gravestone motif and it’s shadow/reflection, along with the temple motif were also present in a body of work that Marais produced in 2020 for her solo exhibition titled “Connections”. Forms like this one come into her practice and can remain part of her visual language for years before they are slowly replaced by other significant forms.