Janine Allen

Janine Allen


Janine Allen (The Brusher) is an artist, lecturer and image philosopher at the University of Bloemfontein, South Africa. She received recognition for her Ph.D exhibition entitled The visionary brusher game, focusing on art-making in the neighbourhood of human playing. Her art and photography brushes “against the grain” of toxic ideologues. She has received an award at the 2010 Spier Contemporary Biennale (Cape Town), has received the 2016 ABSA Fine Arts Award at the Vrystaat International Art Festival and the Stals Prize (SA Academy of Sciences and Art) for the Art Sciences in 2021. Allen has participated in residencies and is a laureate of the Unesco/Aschberg Residencies for Artists program. In 2017 has been awarded an Ampersand Foundation Art Residency (New York). Allen-Spies specialises in painting, conceptual photography, drawing and installation art. Recently her photographs has been selected for the Corona Yarona (Our Corona) Photography Exhibition curated by Gaisang Sathekge of Constitution Hill, South Africa.

Corona: “How do you capture some of the aura of Corona? In this painting I have focused on how the media mediates the pandemic. There have been instances of fraudulent activity and greedy money mongering is observed in fraudulent PPE Equipment tenders and the profits generated from it, but also in the price hiking of small products and services, for example, vitamins, gloves, masks, oxygen meters, sanitizers and antigen tests. The corona virus created a contrast standing between the golden opportunities it created for some individuals and companies, and the masses. The world had experienced an economic and educational meltdown. Corona means crown, but also references the aura or plasma around the sun. Corona Covid 19 is called because of the spike protein’s crownlike appearance. How does the aura of Corona look like and how does our Covid 19 in South Africa manifest through media? I painted in oil, encaustic and latex, a crown that feels like a circuit board and that contains jewels cases without jewels, suggesting an impoverished, disempowering and fraudulent situation.

Breathe: “I started this painting, because I had a need to paint the waterholes, streams, fountains and bushy woods of the Free State that are under discovered areas. As the Free State are usually passed through on the N1, travelers are very much unaware of these places, they often have a stereotypical perspective that the province consist only of flatland. However, these undiscovered areas are quite contentious. These spaces are not often visited, because they fall either on public grounds that are extremely unsafe and thus “no-go” areas, or they are part of private property or fall into conservation areas managed by privately organised conservation groups and thus can only be accessed by those who can afford the annual membership fees. In the times of Covid we are aware of the need to breathe as we can barely breathe through our masks. While I started to paint this painting, I got Covid and I had experienced the terrifying struggle with having to little oxygen. I painted this painting as a green space, that provides oxygen. Yet it is an ominous space as I associate this stream with the river Styx, a place where life crosses over to the afterlife. Yet, us Covid survivors are blocked from this transition, we look death in the face, but can’t cross over and thus are pushed back into the world of the living.”

Of gloves and a selfie stick: “The lockdown came very quickly and I was separated from my art studio that are not at home. I could not depend on the art materials that was left there and we could not buy materials either. This is the story of many artists during this time in South Africa. We had to make art from what we could gather in and around our home. I decided to gather sticks and twigs outside and make a selfie stick with it. The virus was staring myself in the face and threatened to replace my sense of self. I felt I could communicate this through the phone, which also presented a disembodied but also the much-needed contact to the outside world. The gloves used to protect you from the virus, appeared to me as another medium that suggests disembodiment and thus a separation from the self and others.”

Who killed the dog with the rubber bullet?: “During the strict lockdown, a state of disaster was declared in South Africa which allows the army to take control alongside the police and security companies and thus enforce lockdown measurements on civilians. I held a diary in the early days and documented events taking place in me and my family’s life as well as in the outside world. On the 3rd of April 2020, just before Easter, 8 people were killed through police brutality. This was a turning point which foreshadowed what was to come. The diary also notes an inventory of products available in the local supermarket. Local healthy produce was unavailable, leaving locals to buy with such as imported sweets like Easter eggs. On the 5th of April a family dog was killed with a rubber bullet. Children played in the street and the dog was killed in front of the kids by a trigger-happy enforcer.”

Vapour (Wormwood): “Artemisia afra or wilde als (Afr.) is a medicinal plant indigenous to Africa. The plant is used to treat respiratory illness and corona viruses. The direct translation for ‘wilde als’ is ‘wild sagebrush’. South Africans believe in the power of this magical medicinal plant. It is thus known in Africa and Madagascar as a powerful Covid-19 organic. An essential oil is distilled via steam using the twigs and blossoms. In this photograph my husband is inhaling the plants aromas during steaming. The hands gloved by tight surgical synthetic nitrile gloves make the presence of a human body appear quite disembodied from an organic distillation process, and thus also from what is perceived as the wild or ‘natural’ plant life. In the Anthropocene Age (the age where humans have made a destructive impact on ecosystems) and even more so comprehended in the times of Covid-19, humans may attempt to reconnect with nature from which we have become so far removed from. However, our attempts to becoming organic or entering the wild are always overshadowed by the distance between humans and nature in the Anthropocenic Age.”

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