As far back as I can remember I always loved drawing. The copper-mining community I grew up in Zambia did not have too many outlets for artistic creativity, apart from the Home Industries section of the annual National Agricultural & Horticultural Show. So, over the years I accumulated a heap of “Certificates of Honour” and a few Fine Art trophies from that Home Industries category, but it was only when one of my paintings was selected to be exhibited in a Child Art Exhibition in Germany in 1956, that my family began to take my art more seriously. I remember too the excitement when the National Art Gallery in Harare, Zimbabwe purchased my painting during the Third Federal Art Exhibition in 1960. But I have also, always, been a rebel, passionately independent and defiant of authority. So when I was expelled from High School for bad behavior, my parents did not consider art to be a suitable career. I was sent to England to be a nurse but was expelled in the second year, chiefly because I was caught, too often, returning late to the “digs”. In desperation my parents enrolled me at Durban Technical College to study art. In my second year, I received an Arthur May bursary and Certificate of Award and graduated with Honours as a Fine Art teacher. But the restrictive conditions of employment at South African schools at the time put me off even trying to get employment at one of them.
I joined a religious community for the next 13 years, and enjoyed the freedom to express in art my outrage at the injustices prevalent in the country. Then, just when the family had gotten used to explaining that nun picture on the mantelpiece, I quit and finally became a free-lance professional artist. And this is how I continue to live.When I left the Carmelite monastery in 1977, South Africa was smouldering in its apartheid policies everywhere. Through my religious contacts I was able to make a living producing church art – I never advertised, it was all by word of mouth that I received commission after commission. However, my patrons, the mission churches and socio-political NGOs, were always cash-strapped so I could not afford to refuse a commission. Thus my artistic capabilities were stretched to limits that I most probably would not have ventured into otherwise. And it has been a wonderful exhilarating journey, experiencing the excitement and tension between discovering which media works well for you and which threatens to destroy you.
Over the years I have also realized my three great passions – art, theology and feminism. In a sense I believe my artworks have always been a series of interconnections with all three dimensions. Although my growth into feminism was certainly accelerated through my intense concern for political justice and an end to oppression in this country, I believe the catalyst came in the ‘80s when my theological studies began to focus on the religious injustice and oppression of women in the church.
The title of my dissertation, “The visual portrayal of Mary Magdalene, a case study in feminist ethical issues” expressed in essence what my own art was attempting to address – to reclaim women’s rightful position in society, religious and political. As part of my research I began to deliberately re-image the women in the scriptures. When I first exhibited 24 miniature watermedia paintings entitled “In Praise of Biblical Heroines” in 1986 the impact was phenomenal. First, I was branded as “evil” by the religious authorities, but more significantly, everyone else raved about them. I searched out more and more heroines to celebrate and honour from the scriptures as well as historical and legendary accounts. The paintings took on a dimension of affirmation for many women. I was overwhelmed by the extent of enthusiastic response which came to me from women nationally and internationally. I called the series of paintings “in celebration of women”, a number of them were printed as postcards, greeting cards, posters and banners. The series also included South African women activists. My intention throughout was to reclaim our heroic ancestors, to celebrate sisterhood for empowerment. The images have always been deliberately didactic, as I wanted them to be accessible to all. I learnt the efficacy of storytelling in church art, where the viewer must always be able to identify the good person in contrast to the evil one!
1993 M.Theology (cum laude) Thesis: The Visual Portrayal of Mary Magdalene: A Case Study in Feminist Ethical Issues. University of South Africa (Unisa), Pretoria, Gauteng South Africa
1986 B.Theology (Honours) Theological Ethics. Unisa, Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa
1984 B.Theology Unisa, Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa
1965 National Art Teachers Diploma (N.A.T.D): Fine Art/Painting: Composition in Colour (Honours) Durban University of Technology, Durban, South Africa