Claudette Schreuders occupies an intriguing place in the contemporary art world. Born in South Africa in 1973, before the end of apartheid, but in the center of its crumbling, her work has always elegantly danced the line between the personal and the political. Mention is often made of Schreuders’s “search for her African identity,” but I’ve always found her work to be firmly grounded in a deeply personal narrative — the political content of her work sneaking in around the sides rather than hitting you full frontal.
Her most recent show at Jack Shainman Gallery entitled In the Bedroomis perhaps both her most revealing and most enigmatic body of work to date. The title hints that viewers will be privy to something intimate. It’s a little titillating, a tad seductive. Yet once you enter the gallery the first thing you see is a wall hung with five drawings, displayed closely together. Drawn in acrylic ink on paper, the five create a powerfully ominous narrative (all of them made in 2017). Entitled (in order) “Mingle” — a close-up portrait of a very intense adolescent boy staring intensely to the left, outside of the grouping. Next to him is “Note to Self” — a young woman staring blankly to her right. She is faced by “Anna in Uniform,” — a young woman with a traumatized expression staring to the left. She is next to “Loved Ones” — a young girl, topless with pre-pubescent breasts. Her body faces us, but her head turns away looking into the distance. This jovial grouping is punctuated by “The Neighbor” — a middle-aged man grimacing angrily as he stares back at the group, a bloody wound on his forehead. Everyone is avoiding meeting each other’s eyes, as well as ours. This is a portrait of intimacy of the most terrifying sort. Whatever psychodrama has happened here feels like the stuff of the morning tabloids.
Install shot: “School Days” (2019) Lime wood, enamel paint. 10 x 9.) and “Little Table” (2018) Jelutong wood, enamel and oil paint. 20 7/8 x 8 5/8 x 17 5/16 (all images courtesy Jack Shainman gallery)