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Angela Banks' Hybrid Identities

Posted on 6 February 2013

Amalgamating human and animal to create the hybrid satirical figure in her meticulous works, Angela Banks comments on the role of identity in today?s society and how we portray our identity through masks and guises. Banks creates a simulated reality with reference to various icons, archetypes and stereotypes inherent in the society in which we live. She told Art.co.za about her experiences and how we pose our identities behind 'animal' masks.

Angela Banks
Leaving Lydenberg, 2010

ART.CO.ZA [A]: Tell me about your experience?

ANGELA BANKS [AB]: After completing my BA (FA) at the University of Pretoria in 1999, I took a part-time Mixed Media course at the Open Window Art Academy and during this year I taught Art part-time at St Mary?s Girls school in Pretoria. In 2001 I began studying my MA(FA) at the University of Pretoria and taught the Information Design Students there, figure drawing. I also taught figure drawing and perspective drawing to students at the Pretoria Open Window Art Academy. I continue teaching private classes at my home Studio in Johannesburg.

I exhibited in various group and solo exhibitions and have been on residencies in France as well as China which has afforded me the opportunity to experience European and Eastern art and has allowed me to exhibit internationally too.

[A]: You were chosen to represent South Africa at the ?Focus on African Culture? Exhibition in China in 2008.

[AB]: In 2008 I spent nine weeks in China, hosted by the Chinese Ministry of Culture. I joined four other African Artists, namely from Benin, Kenya, Egypt and Cote de Voire (Ivory Coast) on the residency program. We were to create a new body of work for a group exhibition, based on our experiences in the massive metropolis of Shenzhen on the South coast of China. I experienced amazing hospitality and generosity as a foreigner in China, and was given the opportunity of see and explore the Chinese Culture, Art and history. I would not hesitate should I ever have the opportunity to return back there.

Angela Banks
Shooting Shenzhen, 2008

[A]: How has these international experiences influenced your work? How do you incorporate these European and Eastern influences with your South African roots?

[AB]: Whenever traveling overseas, my mind is broadened and I not only experience art created by other cultures but also the actual people, their ideologies and how they adopt and adapt to them. European influence on my work, has been mostly from a technical point of view. When viewing historical paintings in the Louvre in Paris, France or the Ufizzi in Florence, Italy, I am always struck by the painstaking technical detail of the paintings and sculptures and ability of the artists. The time that it took to create many of the masterpieces is a message to me that too many times, we are rushed in the rat race of our lives to meet deadlines and do not spend the time required to create and achieve the desired result.

The Eastern art I experienced in China was twofold. Much of the contemporary Chinese art and its struggle against conforming to their higher laws and ideologies captured me. There was not only a documentation of the old and a zest for the new/ future but there was a desire for change and freedom from binding laws and conforms.

In all, I remain African and my work draws from and reflects my immediate surroundings here in South Africa, around me everyday. I would say that my international excursions have pushed me more so to investigate my own environment, as I see how artists abroad are exploring theirs.

[A]: Your works contain intricate details and realistic figures. Tell me about the style, medium and technique of your work.

[AB]: I work in a realistic style, mostly oil on canvas. I am fascinated with the small and intricate detail of a face, whether it is human or animal, as so much of our personality and character is revealed through the face/ portrait. I am quite obsessive about detail and tend to ?finish? all my work. I would like for future work not to complete the image so definitely as I do, so as to leave some sort of mystery to the subject/ persona and further enhancing the idea of revealing and concealing.

[A]: Your works have a humorous and ?carnival-like? undertone. What are the main themes and message of your works?

[AB]: The carnival reference in my work stems from my studies for my Masters in which I researched Mikhail Bakhtin?s carnival theory. He differentiates between the 'official' world where one has an official identity, and the carnival world that allows you an unofficial or carnival identity, that is taken on as an escape from reality. I created diptychs for my Masters Exhibition, 'About Face', which depicted both these identities. The diptych portraits exhibited were both of the same person; one within the carnival world symbolized by shallow flat patterned space and the other, within the official world represented by a realistically rendered landscape. Here was an exploration and beginning of delving into dual identities, mirror images and equivalent others. Role playing and masquerade are strong themes in my work, as well as carnival-like identity which is superimposed and chosen by the self.

[A]:You make use of hybrid identities consisting of animal and human qualities referencing various icons, archetypes and stereotypes inherent in the society.

[AB]: I make use of the mask represented by an animal head, superimposed onto a human body, to alter the identity of the subject, most of the time in jest. The hybrid figure that has arisen in my work lends towards creating a new identity by covering up the old. I like to poke fun at people who hide behind their titles or their jobs especially if they are high-profile. This may be a political or a social profile, but I like to humorously reveal and conceal concurrently while leaving my audience to decipher the role the character wishes to play, as opposed to the one he is hiding.

[A]: What do the imaginary identities/portraits in your work say about how people portray themselves in our South African society?

[AB]: The identities/portraits in my work seem generally optimistic and light-hearted and portray what I hope for this country; a positive way forward for all South Africans. One hopes that the multitude of identities chosen or assigned within our society would function in an affirmative way, towards development and progression. My amalgamation of human and animal illustrate an adaptation one has made either by desire or by necessity to cope and adjust to their own personal situation. These characters generally appear cheerful and buoyant, though what lies beneath this masquerade disguising the true self, might be sinister and dark. One knows not what lies behind the curtain?

Realistically I do see how identities are being used and abused on many levels in South Africa, not for the good of all, but for personal gain. Within the political arena title, power and wealth are used to intimidate and dominate. Within social media, falsity and masking are commonplace and people hide behind computer screens, on Facebook and Twitter creating and fixating on what and who they would like to be. Within my personal world, living and working in Johannesburg, we are part of the ?brat race?. Here for so many, identity and status is determined by job title, the area in which you live, what you drive, which private schools your children attend and where you have purchased your holiday home. Many a masquerade is performed on a daily basis, so much so that I think there is a loss of the genuine and true self.

Angela Banks
Beatrice, 2011

[A]: What are your plans for the future?

[AB]: I have a solo exhibition in November of this year at the Arts Association Pretoria for which I am creating a new body of work. I am also planning on taking part in two competitions happening this year which I am very excited about, and will also be taking part in 2 or 3 group shows. I will be traveling to London to see the BP National Portrait Award Exhibition in August/September and will be spending some time in Holland too.

View Angela Banks' portfolio here.

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