Brett Murray is a leading South African sculptor, noted for his biting critique of the status quo. He describes his aim as to “hit the collective funny bone”; provoking a laugh that masks a cry. Noted South African critic Ivor Powell describes this as a metaphor for “an almost visceral and reflexive kind of shock that shorts the essentially rational circuitry of thought and discourse”.
During the anti-apartheid Resistance Art era, from the 1980s until 1994, Murray lambasted and undermined the heroes and ogres of the regime – and probed the potential beast that they mirrored in every human heart.
After 1994, Murray’s work reflexively investigated identity, memory, and the definition of a sense of place. Included in the 1999 exhibition “Liberated Voices” (which opened at the Museum for African Art, NY, and traveled to several venues in the US) were works that probed personal complicity through an autobiographical deconstruction of Murray’s archive of family photographs, which dated from the exact period when Nelson Mandela was in prison.
During the last decade, Murray has examined the underbellies of democracy and political correctness. He highlights, often painfully, flaws in the social fabric of the “new” South Africa, which too often looks much like the old. Murray’s concerns are not parochial, however: They provoke the discourse surrounding race, not only in South Africa, but also in other contexts within our increasingly globalized world. More broadly, he disorients “spin”, interrogating stereotypes, representations, and commodification, alongside easy constructions of identity, morality, and patriotism. Such global images as Colonel Sanders, Richie Rich, The Pink Panther, Bart Simpson, together with such genres as comics and Hollywood westerns, provide the slings that launch Murray’s recent works.
Murray has won several major national sculpture commissions and art awards. A 48-page monograph of recent work, White Like Me, published in conjunction with the traveling exhibition of his award-winning work made during 2002, is available through Axis Gallery.