Artist and Stellenbosch University (SU) alumna Robyn Pretorius feels a particularly close connection to her latest installation at the GBV Hub and INSPIRE (Initiative for Non-violence, Support, Prevention, Intervention, Research, and Education) facility at the newly established Stellenbosch GBV centre in Old Helshoogte Road, Ida’s Valley, Stellenbosch.
Two of her artworks, printed on large-scale wallpaper, will be the first thing survivors will see as they enter the building in search of refuge. The GBV centre is an SU collaboration with the Ring for Peace Cape Trust (RfPCT) and includes the establishment of a Thuthuzela Care Centre (TCC) by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), Department of Social Development, Western Cape Department of Health and Wellness and South African Police Service (SAPS).
Born in Belhar on the Cape Flats, Pretorius channels her experiences through painting and is continuously inspired by narratives of identity, especially from diverse environments such as the multicultural communities in which she was raised. Her paintings explore a unique perspective on cultural pride and storytelling, providing nuance to the diverse South African context. In her latest installation, she manifested two large-scale wallpaper artworks, serving as visually welcoming symbols of strength for survivors entering the facility seeking refuge and support.
Pretorius was present when the wallpaper renditions of her artworks were installed on the facility’s walls. The largest one, placed on the stairwell, is titled “Divinity in Connectivity”. The original artwork was created in oil paint, mixed medium on canvas, and was completed during the pandemic. “It was the only painting I was able to do during lockdown,” she explains. Unable to connect physically with friends at the time, she created an artwork with help of two dancers, Sasha Fourie and Tyra Petersen, through online communication.
The mural captures two female bodies engaged in an intertwined dance movement emerging from a nebula background. The Three Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula, scientifically associated with the production of new stars, hold symbolic significance representing rebirth and renewal. Engaged in an intricate dance between vulnerability and strength, the dancers serve as a fitting representation for those seeking solace in the aftermath of trauma.
The smaller mural downstairs, titled “And here you are living, despite it all”, is an adaptation of one of Pretorius's paintings named “Reset, Restart, Refresh”. It takes on a poignant narrative with the artwork’s muse repositioned to unveil a string of three masks, an addition by Pretorius to illustrate the camouflages survivors often adopt before finding a place of safety.
Pretorius's journey as an artist has been anything but conventional. Her undeniable talent was recognised early on, leading her to receive formal art training from a young age and pursue a degree in Fine Art at SU. Despite taking a detour into the corporate and retail sector, Pretorius freelanced as an illustrator and further upskilled by obtaining a certificate in graphic design through University of Cape Town.
Her artistic progress has garnered international acclaim, with exhibitions in New York, Belgium, and South Africa, followed by notable collaborations. These include three realistically painted portraits for the FIFA Football World Cup, which are exhibited in Qatar. Other collaborative art projects include partnerships with Spier Arts Trust and Iziko Slave Lodge. Pretorius continues to use her platform to amplify meaningful narratives.
A recent highlight includes the completion of a collaborative group initiative featuring various South African based artists in partnership with the Spier Arts Trust, Keiskamma Art Projects, and the talented rural community of embroiderers in Hamburg, Eastern Cape. “In Search of Birds of the Sea” is currently showing at Spier wine farm’s old wine cellar until 31 January 2024.
Pretorius muses that with all her projects, the artworks take on a life of their own. In the INSPIRE facility, a space for victims of GBV victims to seek refuge and comfort, her creations will provide hope and solace, bearing testimony to her ethos that “art exists so that we don’t feel alone”.
Please click here for more information about the Stellenbosch GBV Centre and SU INSPIRE Facility.