Embrace - Marion Boehm

Marion Boehm’s current show titled ‘Embrace’ reveals the great affection and admiration she has for Africa – both its people and heritage – and acknowledges the wonderful welcome she received there

Coming up with a title for a show is often a challenge for artists, given its significance on so many levels. However, when Marion Boehm chose the name ‘Embrace’ for her latest exhibition, which is currently on show at Out of Africa Gallery, Barcelona and ArtScoops, she found a one-word description that not only aptly relayed the narrative for the collection of works, but also resonated deeply with her audience.

“My entire motivation for working has been to wholly embrace Africa and its people, so the title for the show absolutely expresses how I feel,” the German artist explained. “I feel so connected to friends over there, even though I haven’t been able to visit them recently because of the pandemic. I’m so happy that I remain able to channel the love I have for the people, their energy and the positive vibe I found in the country into my work.” 

‘Embrace’ has added significance for Marion, since it includes some special pieces she thought she’d keep for herself. “In some ways the show is also a mini retrospective,” she said. 

It was back in 2010 that Marion, together with her husband and daughters, set up home in Johannesburg and began teaching art to schoolchildren there. She immersed herself in the local community, regularly visiting local projects, such as a centre in Soweto run by the photographer and collector David (Bolo) Meyer, which housed memorabilia dating back to the apartheid era. Bolo and the stories he shared with Marion inspired her to begin creating art influenced by the materials she saw within the community in the historically significant suburb of Kliptown, where the Freedom Charter was signed as a vision for the future already, back in 1955. The resulting work is a tribute to the people she met there and their community and heritage. 

Created in mixed-media collages, combining black and white photographs with pieces of vibrant fabric, charcoal, pastels and paper, the pieces simultaneously marry the old to the new. 

Significantly, Marion introduces an inversion into her portraits that turns colonisation on its head, giving her subjects a somewhat regal stance, and positioning them in a poised, proud manner. Her protagonists are also often presented wearing traditional garments such as shawls, headwear, or carrying items that evoke their heritage, like masks, reaffirming that giving her subjects the status they deserve is crucial for Marion.

Many of Marion’s subjects are also confident-looking females in an ancestral setting. “These traditions may still have great relevance for the younger generation today. Are they like a symbol of the way that young people are reinventing and reacting to customs on a globalised level?” she asked. “My aim was to put questions on the table and start a conversation rather than provide answers.” 

Sharing these thoughts and pushing boundaries, even, are inextricably linked to the powerful experiences that Marion had in Africa, both first-hand and as an observer. “I felt honoured and embraced by the people who allowed me to participate in events that were such a meaningful part of their heritage, from dancing and singing to spiritual ceremonies,” she said. “The more I saw, the more I wanted to share these vital moments. That’s what I want viewers to glimpse in my work.” Marion encourages observers to critically involve themselves with the themes of her series, where she raises questions about different aspects of diversity. Her engagement and contribution also include supporting key local initiatives. 

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