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Environmentally charged artist’s work on at Woordfees

Through her works of art Jean Theron Louw tackles and places the spotlight on global environmental issues.

So it’s no surprise that the Somerset West artist’s latest collection of pieces, currently on exhibition at the US Woordfees, takes a similar slant. “My African Wild Dogs is a journey into my inner turmoil,” Jean reveals. “The work is a web of ideas that engages myself and the seriously endangered African wild dog; there are currently only 397 of this species in South Africa and less than 5 000 in Africa.”

The body of work, which forms part of the popular festival’s visual art programme and is on show at Stellenbosch University’s Visual Arts Building, comprises five sculptures and 10 large drawings. The mother of two first started working on the pieces in 2015.

“It has taken an enormous amount of my time and energy,” she says. “This exhibition is really special to me – it’s what I call my ‘confrontational work’, where I really want the viewer to stop and self-reflect. It addresses serious issues in our country.”

The 53-year-old, who holds a degree in architecture from the University of Free State, has always had a passion for art and always dreamt of being a sculptor, something that was further nurtured in her childhood home. “I grew up in a home with parents who collected and loved art; my mother was a keen painter herself. I have always loved art and pursued it as a subject at school,” she recalls, adding that she was awarded the Sanlam Africa Art Award during her school years.

However, she decided against pursuing this passion as a career, rather veering towards architecture, but still keeping her line of work on the creative side. During her first year she met her husband Wilhelm, who is also an architect, and the couple moved to the Helderberg in 1990. The creative pair, who both love design and working with their hands, run an architectural practice in Somerset West.

Jean’s first brush with becoming a professional sculptor occurred about six years ago, she attempted her first “serious” sculptures.

“In 2014, the Stellenbosch Outdoor Sculpture Trust ran a selection for submissions for artists to take in, called Komsit/Comesit. Artists were given a concrete bench to do something at – this is where my Oupa Carlos, Seemingly Peaceful 1 found a home. The creation is still a public sculpture at the end of Dorp Street and Die Laan, where he peacefully sits on his bench with his dove. Hundreds of tourists and children have their photos taken with him every year.”

So too Louw has created Ouma Sarah, Seemingly Peaceful 2 as part of the Sculptures on the Cliffs initiative in Hermanus.

As with most of her works, both creations have an environmental message. Other pieces created by Louw have focused on climate change, the state of the planet, overpopulation, urbanisation, water shortage and the need to live green.

She is especially passionate about changing the unsustainable way that people live. “The purpose of my work is to awaken a consciousness of our connectivity with the planet as a whole,” Louw explains.

“I want to draw my viewer into moments of self-reflection and soul searching, for that is what makes us all truly human.”

My African Wild Dogs has been running since Friday 1 March, and closes on Saturday 9 March. Louw is amazed at the reaction of people who viewed the exhibit.

“It has really achieved what I intended it to do,” she relates. “If you visit the exhibition, you will quickly realise that my mind never really rests and there are numerous future projects visualised.

V The exhibition can be viewed daily from 09:00 to 18:00; a “meet the sculptor” session runs from 12:00 to 13:00 daily.

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