Berni Searle: Still | Reviews


Barbara Pollack, “The New Look of Feminism,” ARTnews, September 2001 issue


” … Berni Searle from South Africa finds her identity as a black woman inescapable. “I use my own body, so it is inextricably tied to issues of gender, but it is also connected to race and class,” says Searle, who acknowledges the influence on her work of American artists such as Lorna Simpson and Pat Ward Williams. For her ‘Colour Me” series, Searle created large-scale photographs and video installations of her body stained with spices and ink. In the video Snow White, the artist sits under a drizzle of flour until she is entirely covered, then scoops up the white powder and kneads it into a loaf of bread, a performance that can be read either as a medita-tion on the subjugation of women or as an ironic comment on the current politics of reconciliation in South Africa, which asks its citizens to blithely build a future out of the ashes of apartheid. (Snow White is included in “Authentic/Ex-centric: Africa In and Out of Africa,” curated by Salah Hassan and Olu Oguibe, at this year’s 49th Venice Biennale. “Colour Me” de-buts in the artist’s first New York show at Axis Gallery this month.) Searle, who continues to live and work in Cape Town, is acutely aware that audiences in Europe and the United States may find her image exotic. “Using my body is a tricky thing to do because it can reinforce stereotypes,” she says, explaining that to ward off simple voyeurism she intentionally inserts an element of confrontation into her self-portraits.

“Searle is dealing with issues relating to women, race, color, language, and specific questions about South Africa’s recent his tory.” says Oguibe, a Nigerian-born curator and artist liv-ing in New York. He points out that while Searle’s work is esthetically beautiful, it is also an entry into the complex history of Africa and other regions. For example, he explains. being “whited-out.” as enacted in Snow White, refers to the official pol-icy of “erasing” indigenous populations in countries such as Australia and Tasmania. The use of nudity. which Western viewers tend to associ-ate with pornography, actually goes back to the anticolonialist demonstrations in Eastern Nigeria in 1929. in which crowds of naked women took to the streets in protest, thereby bringing down the British poll tax.”

– Barbara Pollack


Roberta Smith, “ART IN REVIEW; Berni Searle at Axis Gallery,” The New York Times,
Friday, October 12, 2001


Laurie Farrell, “Review: ‘Still’ – Berni Searle at Axis Gallery, New York,” ArtThrob, November 1, 2001


Marcia E. Vetrocq, “Biennale Babylon,” Art in America, September 2001 issue

“Of the national pavilions and collateral shows located outside the Biennale’s two principal venues, Hassan and Oguibe’s exhibition proves to be one of the most satisfying. Organized with Emma Bedford, “Authentic/Ex-centric: Conceptualism in Contemporary African Art” takes up the project of decentralizing conceptualism from the 1999 exhibition “Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin” [see A.i.A., July ’99]. Effectively installed in the 17th-century palazzo of the Fondazione Levi near the Accademia Bridge, the show presents six artists who work with video, installation and photo-derived imagery, and who train a critical eye on the markers of African identity both on that continent and in the West.

…Bread-making as a complex sign of both domesticity and abjection is one of the paradoxes evoked in Berni Searle’s video performance, Snow White (2001). A South African of mixed descent who was categorized as “coloured” under apartheid, Searle is alternately dusted with flour and showered with water. Nude and kneeling, she becomes a streaked and mottled figure of indeterminate color who prepares balls of dough for flat-bread and then destroys them with what seems a volatile mixture of resignation and simmering resentment.” 
– Marcia Vetrocq (pp. 113-114)