by Donna Bryson
I'd like to take a slight detour, from the world of visual arts to the arts of the table, and to the work of the American writer MFK Fisher. Fisher – no relation, by the way – to the piece of that name in this show said:
"People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? Why don't you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way others do?"
She would answer:
"We must eat. If, in the face of that dread fact we can find other nourishment and tolerance and compassion for it, we'll be no less full of human dignity."
I've no doubt Joni and Greg have been similarly challenged on whether their subjects are fit for artists. One of my favorite Joni paintings is a study of a brick. And then there's that "portrait" of the back of the Sphinx's head. These days, she's obsessed with skulls.
Greg is from the dreaded tribe of journalists. However momentous or dramatic, horrific or inspiring, it's just the news, right? And what can he mean by giving us a picture of a discarded stuffed animal?
I've known these two 13 years. In a way, I've known them since childhood. I was certainly naive when I arrived in South Africa on my first foreign assignment. Joni was still a student. She was a bit nervous at the prospect of her first solo exhibition outside university, in 1996, so I tried to distract her by getting her to concentrate on important decisions like which earrings went best with the dress she planned to wear for the opening.
Greg was a bit older. He was the experienced, natural leader of a pack of photographers, foreign and South African, covering the bloody lead-up to the vote. But he was brash as a boy, and wonderfully childlike in other ways.
On a trip to KwaZulu to speak to survivors of a massacre, and to cover the funerals of those who had not managed to flee, Greg and I and a few other journalists somehow ended up walking along a dirt road through those green, green hills. Four young men appeared, and they were singing. Beautifully, hypnotically. They were probably rehearsing for Sunday services, but it was as if we had stepped into fairy tale and met four genies. I remember Greg taking the time to just marvel.
A lot has changed for Greg and Joni, and in them, since those days. They've grown more confident and more worldly. More aware of the consequences of taking risks.
Yet they still take risks. They both have maintained the ability to be frivolous and to know when to pause and marvel at a little magic.
What makes both my friends artists is the honesty they bring to whatever subject captures their imaginations. And the passion, compassion, humor. That is the path to revealing something enduring, to making the viewer pause to take stock of what it means to be human.
I'll return to MFK Fisher and food. After all, I learned a lot about the art and joy of eating and drinking here in South Africa, at many a meal shared with Greg and Joni.
Fisher writes, in further answer to that question about what should compel an artist:
"I tell about myself, and how I ate bread on a lasting hillside, or drank red wine in a room now blown to bits, and it happens without my willing it that I am telling too about the people with me then, and their other, deeper needs ..."