Art, Northern Advocate Column

Two figures by Anneke Muijlwijk

Configuration - Beach - mixed media on paper 510x410mm28 May, 2016

Two figures, one female, the other, given the shape of the shoulders and arms, must be male. The woman is drawn in outline with charcoal and pencil. The masculine figure is composed of blocks of five colours, painted in thin washes of watercolour paint. It’s like he’s wearing the costume of a circus acrobat, like Picasso once painted.

The woman is seated on a blue couch, her legs tucked up close to her, one hand on the armrest and the other on her thigh just above the knee. She’s is posed, as women have posed naked in art for centuries, as objects of desire and beauty for a masculine gaze. Except, her head leans back slightly, unnaturally, which undermines the attempt at holding a relaxed position on the couch. There’s a tension in the pointed shoulders. It’s awkward. Made more so by the looming figure of the featureless male that overlays the woman.

Is it a loving embrace he’s trying to give? Or something else? The blue arm with a clenched fist passes through the woman’s face like a comic-strip punch. The dull green head bends over from the torso in what looks like despair or regret. Yet as we’re focusing on the male figure, the green head highlights the features of the woman’s own face, the blue arm highlights her eyes. The artist cleverly brings our attention back to the woman, who always remains at the centre of the picture, seemingly in control. 

What is the relationship between these two figures? Their overlaying suggests a disjunction of time; they’re not in the same place together. Has the women removed herself from the relationship? It’s the male figure that is active, encroaching into her body space, but he’s getting no reciprocal response. She leans back calmly, possessed of an inner integrity, her hands remain in place. Even though the male figure is blocked-in with colour, the lines of the woman can still be seen, rendering him transparent. He’s a ghost, a shadow, his position on the couch impossible in real life. He invades the picture, but he doesn’t dominate it.

This painting by local artist Anneke Muijlwijk has a sad beauty that speaks to me of the transience of human relationships, which very rarely exist in a perfect now. The novelist Leo Tolstoy once said that what was interesting about a man and women getting together was not the romance and entanglement leading to marriage, or that kiss that concludes today’s romantic comedies, but rather what happened afterwards. That, he thought, was the source of drama which made for a good story.

It’s not easy to suggest a story in one image composed on a piece of paper. Muijlwijk has achieved this and left me speculating at the possible drama. It holds my attention like few artworks do. Its success comes from a balance between mystery and a concrete grounding in real human emotions. I can identify with both figures. We’ve all been each of them. That universality cuts to the core.

More of Anneke Muijlwijk’s paintings and drawings can be viewed on her website:  Or look out for showings of her works in Whangarei’s local galleries.


Trump, a rich white gansta rapper

14 May 2016

T.I. and Donald TrumpI’ve been listening to gansta rap lately. Inspired by the movie Straight Outta Compton, which is about the pioneer rap group N.W.A (Niggers With Attitude for those who don’t know).

Those Dr Dre beats are irresistible, but what I’ve been relating to is the anger, the humour, and the honesty. Some of it isn’t pretty, there’s certainly misogyny and crude expressions of hate, but the best tracks speak to the reality of being black in America’s urban wastelands.

This musical exploration has led me to make a surprising comparison, to the guy with the funny hairdo who’s about to contest the election for the next president of the United States.

It dawned on me… Donald Trump is a rich white gansta rapper. He says whatever’s on his mind, some of it ugly, some of it just to get a reaction. On many issues he’s obviously ignorant, which he doesn’t care, further endearing himself to some of his similarly ignorant supporters. But he’s tapped into something that relates to what I was saying about gansta rap (or “reality rap” as some early practitioners preferred). The thing that Trump has been consistently saying is that America is in a shit of a mess. “Things are really, really bad out there”, he’s said.

Wages are low, good jobs are hard to come by, student debt is crippling a generation, basic healthcare is inaccessible to many, education is falling apart, along with roads and other public infrastructure. 80% of Americans are experiencing a decline in their living standards. Bill Clinton, Bush (senior and junior), Obama, and the other political careerists in Congress, have done little to change this reality. They’ve happily submitted to the wishes of big banks and the rest of the financial class on Wall Street.

The brewing resentment and general hatred of politicians is working in Trump’s favour. He has gained traction with Republican voters who are sick of slick PR groomed politicians mouthing platitudes and vacuous slogans. He’s also given voice to a dangerous version of that anger that wants to find targets to blame, whether it’s Mexicans “stealing jobs” or out-of-touch liberals, the type that Hillary Clinton represents.

On the other side of the political divide, an “old socialist”, Bernie Sanders, has been pushing Clinton hard for the Democratic nomination. He’s connecting with the stirring amongst young people in particular for something radically different, which Obama has failed to offer. Obama’s main message as president has been “play by the rules” and you’ll have your shot at the American Dream. While presenting a charming face, the Obama administration has tried to stifle the long tradition of black protest movements. He has endorsed policies which have locked millions in jail for minor offences and then stripped them of their human rights when released.

The cover of rapper Kendrick Lamar’s hit album, To Pimp a Butterfly, has a crowd of shirtless black men and children in front of the White House holding fistfuls of dollars. A white judge lies prone on the ground. It’s a satirical image. Life for the majority of black Americans hasn’t changed with the election of an African-American president, if anything it’s got worse. 

And things won’t change for the better if Trump reaches the White House, but this election season in America might be showing that people have had enough of bland “no alternative” politics. The scarier side of the equation has surfaced with Trump, but maybe there’s hope for leadership and a grassroots movement that properly shakes the foundations of America’s unjust political system.