South African artist Lady Skollie is a creative force to be reckoned with. Born in 1987 Lady Skollie (real name Laura Windvoge) is part of a new generation of artists in South Africa who are working within and against the digital sphere, and her work emanates a captivating and sensual energy across the range of mediums that she works with. Her most recent, and first solo, exhibition ‘Lust Politics’ at the Tyburn Gallery gave the city a riveting introduction to her provocative vision, and followed on from an acclaimed stint at Frieze last year. Twin caught up with Lady Skollie to talk working in South Africa, having a sense of humour and how women are going to lift each other up.
Growing up, were you always inclined to express yourself visually? How did your aesthetic develop?
When I was about 4 the Zorro franchise was really taking off in South Africa. I crawled underneath my mum’s tables, beds, inside cupboards and covered everything’s underside with wax crayon Z’s – all in different sizes. I remember being terrified that my mother would realize. So I suppose I have always expressed myself visually. When I was younger I thought that to be an artist you needed to paint realistically, and then I understood that my mark making did not need to be mimetic to be respected or convey a message. I took inspiration from Khoisan drawings because of my own Khoisan culture – as a coloured South African, and my work just became hard, fast, fluid.
Where did the name Lady Skollie come from?
Lady Skollie, for me, has been a lesson in identity. I’ve always had these disparate elements of my personality. Not long ago I wore cute 1950s dresses and had ringlets. Although I looked like a lady, inside I felt this urge to rail against authority and challenge the norm. I would talk about sex and paint little dicks on people’s things. Lady Skollie was a performative thing; it was the space where these two things -masculinity and femininity – met.
Your work is striking and honest, drawing on personal experience. When you started did you ever worry that it wouldn’t resonate with a wider audience?
No, this was never a worry really because I also draw on a range of socio-political issues, like rape, rape culture and plight of women, which are so prevalent within our wider society. They are issues which everyone, even those outside South Africa, should engage with.
It is time for people to feel uncomfortable, and for people to ask themselves very hard questions about how they relate to women, how they treat them, how they talk to them.
Your most recent exhibition was called Lust Politics. Do you think there is always a relationship between the visceral and the political?
Yes, from Monica Lewinsky to Marilyn Monroe to politicians blocking any means for women to have a more equal life or even just reproductive rights. I think there has always been a love hate relationship between politics and lust.
The names of your work are as powerful as the pieces themselves, which comes first when you start to create?
Usually the writing comes first. The works come separately and then I edit and chop to make the writing and the work correlate more.
You’re wrestling with gender, sex and societal structures, why did you want to investigate these ideas in ink and crayon?
I like the tension between a granny-like medium like watercolour and the garish, crayon drawings of sex. Depicting something as visceral as sex with a medium as soft and delicate as watercolour and childlike crayon is thrilling.
Why do you want to use humour in your work?
In South Africa humour is often used a vehicle for social change. People don’t always want to listen if you are being serious. They would rather not listen to preaching and they don’t want to hear about rape stats, HIV stats, etc. I think in some ways I’m pretty funny, so I use humour as a way of unwrapping serious issues in a palatable way – so that people will actually start thinking about change.
One of your pieces focusses on the ups and downs of competitive sisterhood. As you see it, how can women better enable each other?
Women need to engage with each other about issues; communication is key to a united front, and we need one. At the moment, I definitely feel part of a zeitgeist and movement, especially in South Africa, where women are speaking up against feminine debasement and subjugation. Whether we make a social commentary with watercolours or whether we post an online status – that is what I’m part of.
How does Johannesburg influence your work?
J’burg pushes you to achieve things you might have only ever thought about; it’s a city that’s totally alive. My surroundings make a big impact on my work, and I think it’s important to address issues around gender and sexuality because Johannesburg, and South Africa in general, is rife with sexual assaults and abuse. Art is an accessible way to bring up the narrative and I think we need to talk about it more and more and more.
Is now an exciting time to be an artist in South Africa?
Being an artist in South Africa right now is very important and very exciting. Finally the international market is catching on, and it’s actually becoming a financially viable option. In J’burg there are a lot of new independent studios opening where people are reclaiming spaces, especially in Troyeville which was a huge centre of resistance during apartheid. Most of Troyeville is studios, huge buildings which were abandoned in the ‘70s and are now being taken over and are really cost-effective. People are now offering funded residencies. As a creative person it’s a real privilege to have a space to make, without the worries of having to generate a huge income to sustain it.
What are your processes when working? Do you have a specific routine?
It’s difficult to say, because my process entirely varies; I don’t really have a specific routine when it comes to making work. However, usually I think about the image for a long time before making a single mark. Sometimes I write about the work before I create it, which allows me to have a context for it. I listen to a lot of hip hop in the studio; hip hop can take you places and it especially helps me with confidence.
Who are the artists that inspire you?
I am totally inspired by Athi Patra Ruga’s ability to immerse you into his world without even trying. Also Robert Mapplethorpe, for his beautiful way of shocking and Mary Sibande for her sheer brilliance of identity dynamics.
What’s next for you? And what are you most excited about?
I prefer not to talk about ‘what’s next’. I am in the present; I’m hard, fast, now. I don’t play to anybody’s rules. I am a rebellious person!