Marlise Keith - Ill News


I spend a third of my life in bed with migraines. No amount of “right living,” medical or alternative procedures bring relief, and the pain can get so intense that I disassociate from my body, I simply abandon it. A frequent image in my works is that of torn/cut/dismembered hands or other body parts.

I visited Robben Island with my friend Lionel Davis, an artist, political activist, and erstwhile prisoner on the island. In the early days before the UN got to hear what was going on in Robben Island, the inmates were forced to dig a hole and bury problem prisoners up to their necks, then the guards urinated on them. If they asked for water the guards would pour this onto their faces. Water was a mixture of sea and fresh water. Lionel had an interesting observation about the guards, they also only had access to this mix of water and their guarding facilities such as watch towers, were primitive in the extreme where they worked 24-hour shifts. He thought they were as much “prisoners” on the island as were the inmates. The line between the aggressor and the victim blurs.

The image of buried heads in sands with liquid dripping onto their heads was a powerful one. On this trip I found an anchor in the connection to prisoners with just their heads showing. This resonates with me and my experience of regular migraines… the involuntary confinement, social restrictions, futile actions, and the reduction of the world to an isolated, dark room. I am at once, the jailor and the prisoner, the torturer, and the victim of torture.

Lionel is known for his easy nature and happy booming laugh and I asked him how he managed to not become bitter, angry, or depressed.

He said that making art saved him, enabled him to move on. His force of life is inspiring, and it strikes me that it is a choice he must make every single day. If his art saved him, so can mine. How though?

The Nkisi is a power figure used throughout the Congo Basin in Central Africa. Early travellers saw these as "fetishes" and "idols" but I prefer modern anthropology’s term "power objects" or "charms." They could be human or animal figures that are easily identified by a collection of pegs, blades, nails, or other sharp objects stuck into its surface. Some figures contain a medicinal aspect in the head or more commonly the belly in which herbs or other secrets were sometimes stored. This is shielded by a piece of glass, mirror or other reflective surface that represents the ‘other world’ which is inhabited by the dead who can peer through, see potential enemies, and offer protection. The more nails in the traditional Nkisi, the more powerful the figure, the more protection or health to the owner of the Nkisi.

I decided to make my own power objects. I burden them with images, found images, bits of fabric and torturous hope. I ‘will’ my drawings into power objects. I crowd the images with patter, mark, texture, and colour reflecting the malignant hope for migraine relief, the healthy return of a body that has once abandoned me.

  • Marlise Keith - Ill News
  • Rooftop X
  • 2018
  • Soft sculpture, felt, embroidery thread, found objects, laser cut plywood & MDF, wooden pegs, found object, nails, fabric, Pigma Graphic & Micron pens.
  • 25 x 20 x 10 cm
  • ZAR 15,900.00 (incl VAT)