Vulnerable Bodies considers the multi-faceted experience of human migration. Some people migrate due to necessity whilst others move by choice in pursuit of a better life. The works in this exhibition reflect my personal experience with migration as a South African immigrant. Although my family and I chose to move to Australia to escape the crime and uncertainty in South Africa, leaving everything we have ever known was difficult. Memories of the past and reminders that we are migrants still surface and unearth feelings that are often complex to articulate. The act of processing migration can awaken memories that are often intrusive and without narrative, especially when migrants leave behind a difficult past. In these moments I feel exposed and vulnerable. In Vulnerable Bodies, I consider the body as a container of memory to explore its fragility and bring to the surface the often-unspoken challenges migrants face.
‘Barefootedness’ has significant connotations to historical, religious, and social practices throughout the ages. In some cultures, there is a tradition of removing one’s shoes before entering a temple or church as a sign of respect and humility. Historically, slaves were denied shoes as a sign of their low social status. Similarly, prisoners were also forbidden to wear shoes: a practice that is ongoing in some parts of Africa and Asia. Conversely, being without shoes is sometimes associated with childhood innocence and play. The benefits of walking barefoot to the body and mind have also seen a resurgence in wellness circles. In my exhibition, I associate bare feet with the daunting experience of navigating unknown places, cultural nuances, and starting life in a new country.
The concept and exhibition proposal for Vulnerable Bodies was developed in late-2018. I could never have imagined that my exhibition, that considers human vulnerability, would coincide with the COVID-19 pandemic. The past months of lock-down expanded my perspective on this body of work and the unpredictable nature of life. The possible fragility of my health and uncertainty of this new world I now find myself in has shifted my thinking. Although these sculptures were created with migration in mind, I ask the audience to also consider these works in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic to reflect on vulnerabilities in their own lives.