The Voorkamer Gallery, at Chandler House, is delighted to kick off their 2017/2018 Exhibition Cycle with a solo show by the well-known and much-admired botanical artist Lisa Strachan. The show is made up of a series of fifteen meticulously-painted and carefully-observed botanical watercolours. Added to these, Lisa has created a small collection of fabrics and wallpaper using the imagery from her watercolours. She has also turned her hand towards a small, curated collection of tasteful homeware and stationery. The show marks the debut of the artist's exploration into homeware, surface design and even a bit of fashion. These different pieces are all available from Chandler House during the exhibition's run this September.
On the surface, the show looks like another pretty Spring-timed exhibition, but there is more going on than meets the eye. In his essay, 'From "mere weeds" and "bosjes" to A Cape floral kingdom: the re-imagining of indigenous flora at the Cape, c. 1890 - 1939', Lance van Sittert looks at the shift that occurred in the appreciation of local flora in the Cape during the 19th and 20th centuries. He observes that the tastes relating to horticulture, and the plants used in Cape gardens, were heavily favoured towards Eurocentric species; local plants were overlooked and unappreciated. The young botanist William Burchell summed it up quite nicely:
"The common garden-flowers of Europe are here highly valued; and those who wished to show me their taste in horticulture, felt a pride in exhibiting carnations, holly-hocks, balsamines, tulips and hyacinths; while they viewed all the elegant productions of their hills as mere weeds. ... it is a curious fact, that, among the colonialists, these have not even a name, but, when spoken of, are indiscriminately called bosjes (bushes)."
- W.J. Burchell, Travels in the interior of southern Africa, vol 2., London, 1822
When Lisa began translating her botanical watercolours into textiles, she spent a lot of time in up-market fabric shops, hoping to see where her textiles would position themselves in the market. Much to her surprise, (not too dissimilar to Burchell's observation 200 years ago), there were no fynbos-inspired fabrics available. It would seem that tastes in gardening spill into the world of interiors too.
As Sittert notes: 'A preference for the exotic over the indigenous was a hallmark of botanical tastes in all settler colonies.'
Our Euro-centric taste in gardens is having a negative impact on our environment and contributes to the massive water crisis that we are currently faced with in the Western Cape. Considering the above commentary on tastes in horticulture - its time to, dare I say, "de-colonize" our flower beds. We need to abandon our romantic ambitions of procuring English-Style gardens on the tip of Africa and embrace plants that are indigenous, promote abundant wild-life and, most importantly, require very little water. We simply cannot go on cultivating gardens that aren't in sync with an environment that is under more pressure than ever. In conclusion, I hope that with the deepening appreciation of local flora in our gardens, we will start to see a blossoming of textiles and homeware in our interiors that celebrate our own, unique floral kingdom.
The show will run from September 6th to the September 30th 2017.
(t): 021 4244810
Read the full essay by Lance van Sittert in: 'Kronos', Journal of Cape History, November 2002, pp. 102 - 126, Produced by the University of the Western Cape. Edited by Andrew Bank.