Justine Mahoney is a Cape Town-based sculptor working mainly in bronze whose hybrid figures present an alternative mythology for our times. Born in Johannesburg in 1971, her work is deeply informed by the dissonant realities and social fractures of growing up under Apartheid. Rupture and transformation are major thematic concerns for Mahoney, in both her exploration of identity and her “hack-and-bash” approach of visual juxtaposition. Although her figures emanate from her own imagination, they begin as visual citations from popular and alternative culture and from art history. Children’s toys, graphic novels, ’80s magazines and music, erotica, Instagram photographs, science fiction films, Neo Classical art and traditional African sculpture all feed into the work she creates. A voracious collector of printed ephemera and digital imagery, she begins her process by making photo collages that stitch together these contrasting worlds.
Exhibited at Design Miami/ 2023 ‘Pearl Diver’ forms part of Justine Mahoney’s ‘Mage’ series which is a delving into the tangled web of transformation that occurs between adolescence and adulthood. The word “mage” dates back to the 15th century and means “magician or enchanter”, someone who acquires knowledge or wisdom using supernatural means. Mahoney’s characters are inspired by a particular mage – the central character in Ursula Le Guin’s coming-of-age novel A Wizard of Earthsea, who struggles with a shadow creature symbolising his dark side. Many of these works are challenging and transgressive, embracing the totality of human identity: power and vulnerability, desire and self-protection, broken-ness and healing. Through this cast of hybridised characters, antiheroes and archetypes, the artist presents an alternative mythology for our times. The story behind ‘Pearl Diver’ is as follows: They meet under the water. She is searching for parts of herself she has lost. When she cannot find her way back, her friend appears. She is partly re-assembled but has never found a pearl. When her helmet comes off she can see clearly, but she can’t go under without it.
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