Nostalgia has a thousand faces – from the old thrill of the bearded lady and the bear on the monocycle under the big top, to the old men in libraries sitting in quiet reflection of the war photographs in the books before them.
The Casa Labia in Muizenberg is a serenely magnificent bastion of nostalgia where the elegance belongs to an era of genteel erudite sophistication. Tapestries and candelabras await the house’s visitors, as do discrete waiting staff who whisper of cake and coffee. The gallery upstairs is thus the perfect setting for the Cape Paradise in Ink exhibition, a visual ode to the Cape that teases the eye with a collection of images spanning five centuries.
Copperplate engravings celebrating the magical flora and fauna – beheld with such awe by the early Europeans – are but a fraction of this remarkable exhibition. The 1904 photographs of sturdy nudists at SandyBay become the echo for the naïve colourful posters of the post-war euphoria, with their sun-bronzed couples beaming into the camera. A lurid and wildly youthful Sax Appeal cover from 1954 gives a nod to another time, a gentler time before the sirens sang around campus. The multi-era images instill a sense of gratitude and pure joy in being a living breathing present component of this most profoundly unique Cape.
The spirit of reverence for the Cape stems not only from the subject matter itself but is also dramatically apparent in the impressionistic and deeply personal artistic studies of the region. The darkly hued, mildly menacing linocuts of Jonathan Comerford, circa 1999, are frequently aerial views of archetypical Capetonians such as the local fishermen, in an alien carousel of a landscape. The mock ironic juxtaposition of the modern Cape urban life with the pre-developmental wild and dangerous African rural settings cast an uncomfortable shadow across the psyche, but the effect dominates the balance of the exhibition.
The near dayglo brightness of the white teeth of the models in the photograph ‘Fashion School Strandfontein 1967’ serves as a playful counterbalance to the brief foreboding of the abstract work, and in unison the two disparate focal points combine to applaud the breadth of the human spirit.
A vivid and humbling display of love and concern for the Cape, the Paradise in Ink exhibition serves to resurrect the sense of wonder and adoration for this queen of a City.
Cape Paradise in Ink, curated by Gabriel Clark-Brown in association with the South African Print Gallery, runs at the Casa Labia gallery from 7 June to 27 July 2014.