First London Show for South African Artist Peter Mammes

For his first London solo exhibition, South African artist Peter Mammes presents a series of new works that evoke a surreal and unsettling world of war and vintage medicine.

Featuring complex drawings and paintings, PRESUMED ALIVE mixes dark war imagery with cheerful patterns and vibrant colours sourced from, and inspired by, Peter’s own experiences of living in South Africa and Russia, as well as from recent travels to the deserts of Namibia and the thronged streets of Egypt and India.

I am interested in patterns. Thoughts occur as patterns; our lives are made up of events that occur as repetitions; history is repeated in patterned compositions. I am fascinated by the way nature forms patterns, even those that are grotesque. When people and animals are born deformed, the deformity is symmetrical, harmonious. There are patterns in deformities, which imbue them with grace and beauty"

With subjects that include wounded soldiers and mummified animals, his work should be disturbing and macabre; but Peter Mammes paints and draws in such a way, that the final result, reminiscent of traditional woodcut prints, is unnervingly beautiful.

"I try and draw attention to the beauty of the things society tries to hide, the beauty in the uncommon and unusual. I grapple with the way in which what we consider benign and banal today might be in the future, or have been in the past, considered pathological and bizarre. My work draws attention to the unusual in order to question our current sense of normality, which is temporal and malleable"

PRESUMED ALIVE features a wealth of visual material that Peter has gathered from the National Army Museum Archives and the Wellcome Collection in London, focusing his attention on the First World War, the Boer Wars and Victorian Era medical imagery. There’s an attempt at mending things in his work, a licking of wounds, a glimmer of hope, an escape from isolation. The bandages and splints give a sense of unease, a correcting of sorts, at times a sickly healing, forced after a traumatic event.

"I study the way history is written; historical narratives are often cartoonish in the way that they are portrayed to drive political and social agendas. I am particularly fascinated by the obsession and energy spent on war, which is a bizarre and defining characteristic of our species. Living in Egypt, India and Russia has acted as a counterpoint to my experiences in South Africa and to my experience of western narratives in general. I try to place various constructs of gender, sexuality and disability within the larger patterns I have found, in order to show different ways of being to the viewers of my artworks.”

PRESUMED ALIVE is at Hoxton 253 from 5 to 15 September. 253 Hoxton Street, London N1 5LG

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