Peter Mammes is a South African artist currently based in London. His first solo UK show opens on 5 September at Hoxton 253 and we caught up with him at his studio in Whitechapel, East London.
Arts Editor: Christopher George
Hi Peter. Can you tell us about yourself and your background?
I grew up as part of an isolated Afrikaans-speaking community during the collapse of the apartheid regime and the transition to a democratic, multi-cultural government. As a child I witnessed the change of the country’s collective social and economic norms and these experiences have been a major factor in my development as an artist.
What’s your latest exhibition about?
The show is called PRESUMED ALIVE – It’s a play on “Presumed Dead”, a term often used in times of war or unusual circumstances that demand legal closure. My new work deals with the colonial history of the British Empire and features imagery of wounded soldiers, Victorian-era medical equipment, bandaged limbs and mummified animals. I then mix it all with cheerful patterns and vibrant colours which I source from my own experiences of living in South Africa and Russia, as well as from recent travels to Namibia, Egypt and India.
Where did you get your inspiration from for this show?
I spent quite some time researching for material at the National Army Museum Archives and the Wellcome Collection in London. I focused my attention on the First World War, the Boer Wars and Victorian medicine. The bandages and splints give a sense of unease and a correcting of sorts. It’s like I’m trying to mend things through my work, lick the wounds, offer a glimmer of hope and an escape from isolation.
At first glance, the subject matter may sound a bit macabre but your work looks beautiful, almost unnervingly so! How do you manage that?
It’s all down to the patterns and the colour I add to my work. I like to draw attention to the beauty of the things society tries to hide and to the things we think of as unusual in order to question our current sense of normality. I grapple with the way in which what we consider benign and banal today might be in the future, or have been in the past, considered pathological and bizarre.
Tell us more about the patterns.
I’ve always been interested in patterns. Thoughts occur as patterns; our lives are made up of events that occur as repetitions; history is repeated in patterned compositions. I am fascinated by the way nature forms patterns, even those that are grotesque. There are patterns, harmony and symmetry in deformities, which imbue them with grace and beauty. I’m also very interested in symbolism so I like to play with the idea of juxtaposing different symbols to depict a rich patterned plane of line work and colour.
Presumed Alive is presented by Hoxton 253 Art Project Space
253 Hoxton Street, London N1 5LG
6-15 September (12-8pm)
Private View: Thursday 5 September. 6-9pm