Deborah Bell is a leading Johannesburg painter and sculptor whose work is created in dialogue with multiple worlds, texts, histories and consciousnesses. She is also widely known for her collaborative projects with William Kentridge and Robert Hodgins. Bell’s drawings, etchings and monumental clay sculptures possess a kind of ‘mystical godliness’ which comes from deep within her. Her art making is a spiritual practice in which the role of the artist is to ‘co-create the world, to materialise what exists and has existed for all time’. Inspired by museum objects from ancient civilisations, including African, Babylonian and Egyptian, her work incorporates multi-layered references to past and present worlds. This connection to ancient sources and memories is linked to her spiritual beliefs and how she defines herself as an artist in Africa, working with materials such as clay and bronze.
This book is the first overview of Bell’s body of work and includes a variety of authors and different forms of writing. Together, these voices provide the reader with a multi-perspectival view into the many contexts in which Bell’s work can be viewed, thought about and read. The artist’s voice is strongly present in her writings from her personal notebooks. In the section on her collaborations with William Kentridge and Robert Hodgins, all three artists reflect independently on the nature of Bell¹s contribution to the various printmaking and film/video projects. A conversation on her Unearthed sculptures with Achille Mbembe,renowned social theorist from Wits Institute of Social and Economic Research, opens up important debates around histories, geographies and artistic appropriation.
Pippa Stein, author and compiler of this book, was a writer and teacher in the School of Literature and Language Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. She published widely in the area of culture, literacies and education. She passed away in 2008 and will be sorely missed by those who knew her.