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South African Artist Makes Action Figures from Childhood Memories

Justine Mahoney tackles the turmoil of 1970s South Africa with figurative sculptures.
Images courtesy the artist

Some artists tackle issues like political discord, bigotry, and violence through representational pieces that speak to audiences in a plain language that can hardly be misunderstood. Others take a subtler route, weaving in these themes just below the surface of their pieces. Justine Mahoney's sculptures, now presented by design firm Southern Guild at Art Basel Miami Beach, are fascinating because she tackles the political by addressing it neither directly nor indirectly: In being aesthetically depoliticized, these sculptural figures are deeply political.


Mahoney's work is focused on childhood—through her little kid's eyes we see the people around her, and imagery that helped shape her. She grew up in South Africa during an era which found the country rocked by unrest. But as a middle-class white child, Mahoney lived in a bubble of safety that inoculated her from the turmoil. "I tap memory and limit myself to see the world the way a child does," she says. "The experience of growing up in South Africa during the 70s, 80s, and 90s was extremely schizophrenic and this is where I gather the elements together from." Her bronze sculptures based on childhood memories are so cute, kitschy, and innocent-seeming that they becoming fascinatingly off-putting—so devoid of the political that they are imbued with it. No reality could be as sweet and pristine as these sculptures, and this unreality imbues the pieces with a fascinating darkness.

Sculpture is not Mahoney's only medium, but a child-like point of view is a theme throughout much of her work.

For more of Justine Mahoney's work, visit her website.


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