Love is a Dangerous Drug by John-Anthony Boerma is a body of work comprising 200 ceramic plates, that serve as an autobiography of the artist, written in song lyrics and drawings that are filled with nostalgia, moments of pain, loss and also joy.
On May 8 we travelled to Mpumalanga for the opening of the exhibition at White River Gallery. Now 12 years old, this contemporary gallery at Casterbridge Lifestyle Centre is a must-visit. Showcasing the work of Lowveld artists and collaborating with galleries in neighbouring Eswatini and Mozambique, the White River Gallery is led by Lowveld art dynamo, the softly-spoken and supremely elegant Dana MacFarlane (who previously owned a gallery in Parkhurst).
The latest exhibition to open at White River Gallery is the outstanding Love is a Dangerous Drug by Mpumalanga artist John-Anthony Boerma, on show until May 22 (browse the catalogue and buy works from the exhibition online here).
Boerma’s exhibition is an immersive experience combining the installation of his artworks, 200 gold-trimmed handmade, painted and glazed plates, with an engrossing soundscape of an array of favourite songs that hold specific memories and associations for the artist. The title of the exhibition was inspired by an Annie Lennox song, and as you browse the installation and the words on the plate catch your eye, you’ll find yourself humming song lyrics from Nina Simone to the Eurythmics.
The entire collection of works took more than a year to create with each plate taking at least three days to construct, paint and fire. Boerma’s inscriptions on the plates have a whimsical and childlike quality.
In this exhibition his preoccupation is with how music can stir powerful emotions and recollections of places and events, that then change over time. It’s an intensely personal exhibition, and yet so universal in its meaning, and so unique for each person who experiences it.
“I see you’ve broken a feather”,
“I try to walk away but I stumble”,
“carve your name across my heart”
“…then you came along”
Each plate contains just one line from a song, with words crossed out or circled. The iconic lyrics are powerfully presented, out of their original context. Some you will walk straight past, and then a line will go straight to your heart, triggering a memory. Romance and heartbreak intermingle and are at play.
Boerma says that this deeply personal new collection of work is part of his own full circle journey. In the early 1980s he left his hometown of Nelspruit as a young artist, escaping military conscription and chasing new dreams and expectations. He wound up living a non-conformist life in New York, before moving to The Netherlands and back to South Africa in the early 2000s.
“I left Nelspruit, embarking on a journey to discover the world and what it had to offer. Returning to the cosy comfort of my same hometown, laden with that same suitcase filled with memories, experience and a realisation that the world is as big as the memories you create and experience is what friends give you whether in the far-flung corners of exotic spaces or in the cosy armchair in the safety of what I call home. My collection of memories, as depicted in the words on the plates that are on display, depict the full circle of a road, my road, less travelled. ”
In his speech at the gallery opening, activist and retired Constitutional Court judge Edwin Cameron, who considers Boerma “a younger brother” spoke of how the exhibition “conveyed meaning and connection in a perilous world – a highly personal set of works but yet it beckons the viewer to reflect on our own memories and experiences”. It’s an extraordinary feat. If you can get to White River to see it, we suggest you do. And for all the tips needed to make your stay more enjoyable, see our guide to White River here.
Love is a Dangerous Drug is on show at the White River Gallery at the Casterbridge Lifestyle Centre in White River until May 22. The gallery is open 10:00-16:00 and 10:00-14:00 on Sundays. Find out more at whiterivergallery.co.za.