How South African artist Penny Siopis is exploring ‘Shame’

Siopis says the Truth and Reconciliation Commission raised questions about individual complicity in apartheid, which she wanted to explore in the series. Mario Todeschini

Growing up in South Africa in the 1950s and ’60s, it was inevitable that Penny Siopis’ work would be political.

The multimedia artist was born during apartheid, South Africa’s period of legislated segregation, and began her career in the 1980s when anti-apartheid activist (and later president) Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. The “momentous changes of the country” fundamentally shaped her art, said Siopis.”

You’re not just painting or making work about the empirical changes that you witness, but actually the psychological changes,” she said.

Siopis expressed some of those psychological changes in her series “Shame.” Comprising 165 paintings created over three years between 2002 and 2005, Siopis said the series was a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission — a government body established to investigate human rights violations that took place during apartheid — that explored the “questions around culpability, vulnerability, and shame that the Commission raised.”

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