Beverly Samler and Lisa Van Wyk
Buffalo City College,
East London, South Africa

Exhibition Statement: “Proud Survivors: Through Adversity – The Legacy of African Woman”

"Proud Survivors" is working under the framework of cultural exchange for the 4th Impact International Printmaking conference. This project and exhibition deals with issues of abuse in South African Society more locally the Eastern Cape. The project theme focuses on woman as survivors rather than victims.

Gender inequality contributes to South Africa’s high levels of violence, hampers economic development, places strain on our health care system and is fueling the AIDS crisis; while at the same time perpetuating the role of woman as victim. Even though South African Woman have the support of the President, Government, TV personalities and countless organizations in an attempt to curb abuse, mostly against woman and children, in the community; their efforts seem, sadly, to be insufficient.

Much has been said about this type of abuse in South Africa, to the extent that when we hear about stories of rape, abuse, AIDS and violence we seem to have become desensitized. The appalling rate of violence against woman and children in South Africa is a warning that something is indeed wrong with healthy gender/sexual norms, in our society. Rape statistics project a bleak future for woman in South Africa. South Africans read of and view this shame on a daily basis. What can one do? Be creative! Get involved! Do something!

As two local Eastern Cape artists and printmakers we initiated “Proud Survivors” in 2004. Our idea was to comment on the state of abuse in South Africa, with the view of using printmaking to produce a powerful, graphic message to raise awareness about this issue. As artists/printmakers, we have the ability to represent and respond graphically on the state of relationships in South Africa and more locally the Eastern Cape. As creative individuals, we feel that we are in a position to propose new and creative solutions to old issues. Issues within the family regarding relationships, responsibility and respect form the pyramid of life which society seems to neglect in favor of patriarchy and the battle of power. Although this is changing, thankfully, much has still to be done.

The project includes an ongoing hand printing awareness campaign that enables the public to get involved; by giving the project a print produced by their hand and signature, the individual is declaring their support to help stamp out abuse and gender based violence within their community. The handprints are part of the exhibition that stands as a monument for all woman and survivors. The message for the campaign is to be responsible and respectful in your relationships with others, value all people and stamp out abuse.

During this campaign we have had a wonderful opportunity to network with rural and urban woman as well as men to discuss concerns of abuse against both woman and children. The aim of the project is to inform the population in a visual manner and generate awareness and advocacy within the community and to change the mindsets of traditional conservatives and to create a spiritual transformation in the identity of men. Collaboration among communities across a wide spectrum is essential to reach a diverse population. A shift from one extreme to the other is not the solution to South Africa’s gender epidemic either. The position of roles played by family members and the relationships they share with one another is an important factor to consider when finding solutions.

LISA VAN WYK  was born in East London, South Africa. She lived and schooled in the Eastern Cape where she excelled in sport and leadership. She then went on to study at the East London College where she obtained a 3-year diploma in Fine Art. During this time Van Wyk received the Jack Lugg Trophy for best printmaker for two successive years. She then traveled to the United Kingdom on a two-year work visa and traveled broadly. On returning to South Africa at the end of 1997, she decided to complete her Bachelors Degree at the East London College under the auspices of Port Elizabeth Technikon. She graduated successfully, majoring in Printmaking and obtained a distinction for her theory component/dissertation, which was: An inquiry as to the validity of the perception that political statements dominate South African art? Van Wyk moved on to lecturing at the East London College where she ran the printmaking department. During this time she participated in numerous group exhibitions, exchanges and collaborations both locally and nationally. An opportunity arose for her to live and work in Taiwan where she resided for a period of 3 years. In this time she traveled extensively and held her first, two successful, solo exhibitions in a local gallery. She returned back to South Africa with her Canadian life partner and gave birth to their daughter. This is the motivation for Lisa to do the advocacy work around her current project, “Proud Survivors.” Lisa Van Wyk has art work in many private collections around the world and is currently teaching at the Fine Art Department at Buffalo City Public FET College, where she is co-producing this project with Beverley Samler.

BEVERLEY SAMLER was born in Zambia and lived most of her life in Zimbabwe. She came to South Africa in 1980 and settled in the Eastern Cape. She started painting again after a long break of 20 years and eventually found her way into the Buffalo City Public FET College’s printmaking studio. She studied under Rose Warren for 4 years. Beverley now uses the printmaking studio on a part time basis for her own creative work. Beverley has held two successful solo exhibitions in the Eastern Cape. In addition she has exhibited in numerous group showings locally and in Zimbabwe. The most recent being the 3rd International Printmaking conference held in Cape Town 2003, where she was involved in the production of a community based project and exhibition namely, “Salted Lines.” Beverley Samler’s passion for printmaking is balanced with other media and it is in this field that the artist views the work to be more experimental and often gender based. She will be exhibiting at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown this year she is also a board member for the Ann Bryant Art Gallery and has done extensive work within her society. Samler is motivated to use art to accomplish as much as possible to improve and educate her community. Therefore she enlisted the help of Lisa Van Wyk for this new project “Proud Survivors.”