‘Tower of Babble’ works reflect social media clang

By Barbara Hollands

Fashion and news photographer turned rural-living artist Marc Pradervand spends his days fending off a bad-tempered rooster called Mr Angola and his evenings creating quirky paintings at his self-built wattle and daub studio in Riebeek East.

BIRDS AND BEASTS: East London-born artist Marc Pradervand is a former news and fashion photographer who lives in ‘a glorified mud hut’ in Riebeek East. His exhibition Tower of Babble opens at the Ann Bryant Art Gallery’s Coach House on Thursday evening and runs until March 13 Picture: SUPPLIED

In the 10 years since he gave up the rat race of Cape Town to live the country dream on what was a bushy, snake-ridden plot with no electricity or water, the former photographer has exhibited in France, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth and, on Thursday, he opens his second exhibition at East London’s Ann Bryant Art Gallery’s Coach House.

Entitled Tower of Babble, his latest body of work consists of 30 vibrant, large and small format paintings of mythical Xhosa birds and beasts.

Influenced by fellow Eastern Cape artists like the late world-renowned Walter Battiss of Somerset East and accomplished former East Londoner Norman Catherine, Pradervand, 48, who was born and schooled in East London, is also inspired by the San rock paintings found in his corner of the world.

“There is a lot of San rock art in the valleys around here which has had an impact on me. I have also been to Australia’s western deserts where I saw Aboriginal paintings.

“They have x-ray views of animals which showed children how to dissect animals and which parts could be eaten.”

Although he has toned down his previously controversial social commentary, Tower of Babble refers to the unrelenting social media “babble” that has become an intrinsic feature of most of our lives.

“Everything is down to the headlines on Facebook. We often don’t even read the whole story nor have the qualifications but everyone is a political or environmental expert. Whoever makes the biggest noise is the king of the castle even with the flimsiest credentials.”

Pradervand’s own credentials originally lay in the field of teaching. After matriculating at Cambridge High, he studied teaching at Port Elizabeth Teachers College and taught primary school children in EL, Cape Town and the UK before re-training as a photographer in PE.

“I lived in Cape Town and freelanced as a fashion photographer for magazines such as Men’s Health, Marie Claire, Fair Lady and Cosmopolitan, as well as being a news photographer for the Sunday Times. I knew nothing about fashion though, and once, while I was shooting a campaign for Aca Joe, they gave me a voucher to buy some of their clothes because there I was in Mr Price jeans and a T-shirt!”

The duality of shooting glamorous models one minute and attending a story about a horror “corrective” rape the next was not lost on him. “That is SA. One side of the road is another world from the other.”

When he and his wife, pre-primary teacher turned mosaic artist Yolande Delport, 48, saw an ad for a two hectare plot in Riebeek East they bought it sight unseen.

“We have our own Nkandla now,” he joked. “We built a glorified mud hut and each have our separate wattle and daub studios. We have seven dogs and seven cats, a harem of hens and a rooster who has a foul temper and attacks everyone, including us.”

l Tower of Babble opens at 6.30pm on Thursday and will be up till March 13. — barbarah@dispatch.co.za

-DispatchLIVE

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