• Kali van der Merwe

    South Africa

    Kali van der Merwe
    • Artist Statement
      • My work opens an aperture to the mysteries of life through the lens of death.

        I have situated myself in the heart of the rural Overberg fynbos region. On a daily basis, I am privileged to come across rare, endangered species of flora and fauna and see myself as a visual advocate on their behalf.

        In my exhibitions, composite photography, sculpture, video, animation, text, taxidermy, soundscapes and olfactory art offset each other in a immersive, interactive, tactile environments intended to stimulate wonder, curiosity and deeper connection and greater empathy for the creatures and plants we share our existence with. The natural world, robust, but in fragile balance, is extremely vulnerable to human lifestyles and cultural projections. I seek to expand awareness of mutual interconnectedness with all forms of life.

        My photographic explorations take place in the dark, with the night as my darkroom. I blur boundaries between painting and photography using long exposures and a technique termed ‘light painting’. This enables my image creation to extend beyond the instant of a click to become an actual encounter that takes place over a period of time.

        I situate my individual photographs in imagined scenarios of fictional interspecies relationships, which unfold within celestial vistas of galaxies (courtesy of the Hubble telescope). I navigate balances between the minuscule and cosmic, reality and theatricality. This 'Theatre of the Deceased', is the meeting place of the ordinary and sublime, the monstrous and macabre, the unlikely and impossible.

    • Biography

      • BA Fine Art Honours (Michaelis School of Art, Cape Town)
        Advanced Diploma in Sculpture (Michaelis School of Art, Cape Town)

        KALI VAN DER MERWE (b. Johannesburg 1964) re-named herself after the fierce Indian goddess of creation and destruction.

        Kali's most recent exhibition 'After Life, an aperture on the mysteries life through the lens of death', was hosted at the historical Kings Map Room of Iziko South African Museum. This re-interpretation of the museum specimen guided by plays of imagination rather than organised by any systematic reason proved to be an extremely popular exhibition amongst adults and children alike. It garnered a number of positive reviews in the media and the exhibition was extended for a further 2 months at the museum for a total of 5 months.

        Kali's formal education is grounded in a BAFA  majoring in sculpture from Michaelis School of Fine Arts, University of Cape Town. Post formal study, she worked in the mediums of ceramics, printmaking and sculpture, exhibiting at galleries nationally and internationally, taking part in a group show at MOMA, Oxford.

        Kali unpicked her formal art education living an experimental lifestyle in the former East Berlin in the early  nineties. She began working with sound, filmed images, slides, photographs, light sculptures and serigraphs, collaborating with a number underground collectives of the time, creating installations in various cities including Amsterdam, Berlin and Zurich.

        Returning to a democratic South Africa she extended her interest in filmmaking to make documentaries. Based in Cape Town, her work combined social issue filmmaking with creative social development and her collaborative documentaries won multiple local and international best film and jury awards at festivals over her 2 decade film career.

        Kali's exhibitions are environments of microcosmic and macrocosmic, macabre beauty displayed in multiple mediums appealing to all the senses including touch and smell. Kali views herself as a visual advocate on behalf of wild, fragile indigenous flora and fauna, encouraging people to observe, connect, and be immersed in sense of wonder.

        Selected Exhibitions:


        AfTeR LiFe – Solo show in Kings Map Room, Iziko South African Museum, Cape Town
        e-x-p-a-n-s-i-v-e - Solo show as part of Fynarts Festival Hermanunus, Newton and Johnson Wine Estate
        Botanica, New Perspectives on Botanical Art by Women Artists –  Group show - artb The Arts Association of Bellville Cape Town
        Verge, Art for Species – Group show - Old Gaol Museum Complex, Knysna, Western Cape

        B-r-o-k-e  W-h-o-l-e, the labor-oratory of Dr Kali – Solo show photographic, sculptural, video installation - Grande Provence Gallery, Franschoek , Western Cape

        FABULA NEX – Solo show photographic, sculptural and installation - Rossouw Modern Hermanus, Western Cape
        beyond Beyond, infinite and infinitesimal – Solo show photographic and installation  - Prince Albert Gallery, Prince Albert, Western Cape.
        That Art Fair – Print Gallery

        beyond Beyond, infinite and infinitesimal – Solo show curated by Jackie Ruth Murray, photographic, installation and experimental video - Cameraland Cape Town

        Skullduggery –  Group show - The Studio, Kalk Bay, Cape Town

        Botanical – Group Exhibition - Print Gallery Woodstock, Cape Town

        Dark Light, images of re-awakening – Solo show Cape Town Castle as part of the 5th Cape Town Month of Photography
        Dark Light - Kalk Bay Modern Gallery, Cape Town

        AUTUMN MMXI - Group show - MUSEUM Photographic Art Gallery, Woodstock, Cape Town.

        “out of the blue” -  Solo show - an exploration of sensual feminine energies photographed underwater - Misael Space, Cape Town.
        ORBIS - Commissioned to photograph the children’s eye ward at the Red Cross Children’s hospital.

    • Interview
      • Which new trends or South African artists do you find inspiring at the moment?
        I find it inspiring that photography is an accepted art form and is a means of expression for more and more artists.
        I am appreciating the fact that we are moving out of a dry conceptual art phase into something that can speak more to the soul, the spirit and the senses.

        Which South African deceased artist do you most admire and why?
        Judith Mason – for her ability to explore the darker side of life with such exquisite delicacy, for her hybrid creatures that come to life from two dimensional surfaces
        Walter Battiss – for his unending stream of creativity and for inventing an imaginative island that oozes wild vision.
        David Goldblatt – for his dogged unwavering exposure of a skewered South African society with such deep commitment and passion

        Where do you get your inspiration for your work?
        My inspiration surrounds me in the remote rural place where I live in the forms of plants, animals and insects. I never kill anything to create but rather await serendipitous gifts. Sometimes they tragically arrive in the form of roadkill. I honour each life no matter how small or large. My inspiration also comes from my own depths when I am doing figurative works and I use my own body (often naked) as raw material for sub conscious, collective unconscious, mythological inspiration.

        Do you have any rituals or habits involving your art-making that you can tell us about?
        I like working at night, using it as an expansive photographic darkroom. I live on a remote farm where I am very privileged to have no artificial lights. At night, I feel the weight of the collective mind of the day ebbing away and I find my freedom in the dark silence of the early hours of the morning  from 2 – 4 am.

        What do you like most about being an artist?
        Everyday is different, there is no routine about my day or night. Everyday brings new challenges, new insights and new inspiration. My inspiration is all around me in the beautiful wild place where I live. I love giving form to dreams that I have, both  night-time and daytime dreams. I love surprising myself with what emerges from my camera and my hands. Being creative means to be a continuous state of wonder, taking nothing as ordinary or for granted. I can find a whole universe in a fly's wing.

        How do you handle bad days when you experience artist's block?
        I rarely get artist's block as I have years backlog of ideas and photographs waiting to be transformed into new projects. It's more about finding the time to do them all.
        I get artist's depression, particularly after working very hard for an exhibition, there is a kind of deflation after all that high energy. On those days I wake up and think what is it all for, why should I bother, who cares if I create or not? Now, I am trying to see it more as a cycle – there needs to be a winter in every growth cycle, where one looses ones leaves and rests and retreats before the spring of new growth. Doing nothing and resting is an integral part of the creative cycle

        What is your greatest achievement as an artist to date?
        My show at Iziko South African Museum which was initially on for 3 months and then due to its popularity was extended for another 2 months. It was viewed and experienced by a wide ranging public beyond an art gallery audience and everyone children and adults alike seemed to take something special and meaningful to them away from the exhibition. Visitors enthusiastically filled up 5 comments books.
        In my documentary filmmaking career, my films were invited to screen in many different places around the world and won numerous international and local awards. I travelled to Zanzibar, Cairo, Dresden, Torino, Milan, Durban and Sydney to present various films I directed.

        Do you feel that you want to make a difference to the world or in people's lives? If yes, how?
        Yes I hope to open people's eyes to the beauty that exists in every living thing surrounding them, if we look long enough and deep enough.
        I wish to inspire people to feel a deeper connection and reverence for natural world, because our fates are completely intertwined. I hope to inspire people to respect all forms of life – plant, animal and insect. We are living through the 6th major extinction on this planet and it is human driven.

        What are your plans for the coming year?
        I am planning another exhibition for Iziko South African Museum, I am planning an exhibition for the National Art Gallery of Namibia. I am currently approaching international museums to host my work. In the coming years, I hope to travel more with my work. My dream is to exhibit in Cuba, Mexico and Japan (not all in one year).
  • vulnerable thistle sugarbush ed. 1/15 photographic fine art edition kali van der merwe KALI VAN DER MERWE
    Vulnerable Thistle Sugarbush Ed. 1/15
    Photographic Fine Art Edition / 70 x 70 cm
  • vulnerable marsh rose ii : ed.1/15 photographic fine art edition kali van der merwe KALI VAN DER MERWE
    Vulnerable Marsh Rose II : Ed.1/15
    Photographic Fine Art Edition / 70 x 70 cm
  • habit loss donkey's ears : ed. 1/15 photographic fine art edition kali van der merwe KALI VAN DER MERWE
    Habit Loss Donkey's Ears : Ed. 1/15
    Photographic Fine Art Edition / 70 x 70 cm
  • endangered spiderhead ii : ed. 1/15 photographic fine art edition kali van der merwe KALI VAN DER MERWE
    Endangered Spiderhead II : Ed. 1/15
    Photographic Fine Art Edition / 70 x 70 cm
  • critically endangered erica recurvata : ed. 1/15 photographic fine art edition kali van der merwe KALI VAN DER MERWE
    Critically Endangered Erica Recurvata : Ed. 1/15
    Photographic Fine Art Edition / 70 x 70 cm