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How South African Artist Penny Siopis is Exploring ‘Shame’

Like any couple, politics and art have a way of influencing each other, as evidenced by the work of South African artist, Penny Siopsis. What fascinates her, however, are the psychological changes that political movements exact on society, which she first explored with a series of paintings called ‘Shame,’ created between 2002 and 2005. Coinciding with the launch of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, she was attempting to depict the shame engendered by its focus on the human rights abuses of the apartheid era. Dynamic, abstract figures dominate the paintings in shades of orange and red, contrasted against the sharp white background. Siopis used lacquer and oil paint to create a “distressed” and “agitated” look, along with phrases from rubber stamps she found in a children’s craft store. Revisiting the topic earlier this year, Siopis zeroed in on the “psychosexual” element of shame. “Shadow Shame Again” is a six-minute digital film created during the coronavirus pandemic, as South Africa reckons with what its president Cyril Ramaphosa calls “another pandemic”: violence against women. Gender-based violence has been on the rise in South Africa in the past year, with the country already having one of the highest rates of rape in the world.