Nikki Swan - Artist’s statement
Ceramic cattle heads
The current esteem of Nguni cattle, witnessed by their ubiquitous presence in contemporary popular culture, are living reminders of our colourful history and of nostalgia for a ‘golden’ pastoral age. From the landing of the first European ships, cattle have been the spindle of or at least witness to conflicted interactions between colonialists and indigenous people. They provided “capital”, food and hides, pulled ploughs and wagons, carried people and their possessions, bore warriors into battle, and also acted as spiritual vessels to connect with the realms of ancestors. The absence of cattle in contemporary urban life is accentuated by irreverent anthropomorphic symbols, such as an emblem of a ‘happy’ cow on a milk sachet. However, real cattle, being a part of our cultural memory, should not be forgotten, and effort has to be made to retain them as elements in a greater store of information from which to create contemporary and future art. I hope my ceramic cattle heads can add value to an already rich archive of South African cultural memories, which may assist us in ascertaining a sense of meaning, belonging, and identity in a world which may seem increasingly alienating and de-humanised, and remind us of our intrinsic bond with, and responsibility to other animals. They also represent us as a people in all our diversity.
I have had an intense interest in animals since childhood, and how their lives, when interwoven with ours, have influenced human society and culture. On a personal level, this work has also brought together two apparently conflicting aspects of my life, that of being an artist, with that of a veterinarian.
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