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Jo’burg’s Rebirth Documented as Art

Van der Merwe’s commute to her studio at August House in Doornfontein offered a different experience each day, with the city’s evolving skyline and the many construction sites she passed along the way becoming the embodiment of the ever-changing nature of the city.

An idea to take pristine copper print-making plates and bury them just below the surface of the earth at some of these construction sites was born of a desire to document the city’s energy.

“When I started printing the damaged plates, it occurred to me that the plate documented actions that happened in the city, in some way archiving the documentation,” she says. “In that way, my prints and copper plates, to me at least, definitely play a role in the documentation of the history of the city – subjective as that history may be”.

The prints made from the copper plates, pocked, dented and scarred by the act of rebuilding the city, deliver ingenious, textured images while the plates themselves become sculptures. Alongside the gnarled plates and the inspired prints, sit Chrisél’s paintings – also inspired by the city’s memory and history, but invoking a sense of the decayed surfaces which are being rejuvenated.

Chrisél began her practice while studying towards her BA Fine Arts degree at the University of Pretoria. “I considered my work in that period academically-focused and prioritized my eligibility as a student to receive scholarships for further studies,” she says. “Since then, my work has kept its academic foundations but I have become far braver in my approach. The outcome of my work is less important than the processes used in its conception. The experimental nature that I willingly use limit my control and allow for ‘happy accidents’ to happen. These accidents are the most exciting parts of the process”.

She’s been selected as one of this year’s recipients of the Young Female Residency Award with The Project Space, an initiative that aims to help young African female artists make a career out of their art. Beyond that are a range of exhibitions, starting with Aftermath at First Rand Bank’s Art@first, from 22 August, building towards a solo exhibition, Substratum, at Johannesburg’s Lizamore & Associates in November.

For more about Chrisél’s work, visit

Written by: Trevor Crighton

Images supplied by the artist.

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