A LIFE STORY | 2017 - 2019
In June 2017, Stefan Blom won the Tollman Bouchard Finlayson Art Award for ‘into the light fantastic’, part of a bigger body of work titled “A Life Story”.
Stefan Blom is primarily a sculptor. He was introduced to the medium as a child, whittling the dry roots from a field close to home into fantastical creatures. Today, his signature pieces are life-sized polychrome, fibreglass sculptures. Blom explores the symbiotic nature of victim and perpetrator particularly expressed through the female form in bondage to oppressive forces.
Although secondary to his signature sculptures, Blom’s private pictographic language is always found inked, like the tattoo on his arm, onto a section of his sculpture’s skin. However, his etched tondo, “Into the Light Fantastic”, represents a shift in focus. As the title suggests, his pictographs move from a quiet, supportive role into primary focus. The prelude to the tondo are 11 square, etched plates titled, “A Life Story”, one of which is owned by the Zeitz MOCAA. Blom explores the seminal incidents of his life in this series. The shift from “A Life Story” to “Into the Light Fantastic” is the celebration of the positive incidents in his life, as if Blom has finally been able to put to rest the sustained traumas which have haunted him.
Blom is not alone in creating his own language. The late Cote Ivorian Frédéric Bruly Bouabré, also known as Cheik Nadroor, ‘he who does not forget’, created a 448-character alphabet of monosyllabic pictograms to represent phonetic syllables for the purpose of transcribing the phonetic and oral traditions of his people, the Bété.
Closer to home isIsibheqe (isiZulu for beaded Zulu love letters) Sohlamvu, also known as Ditematsa Dinokoa, have been developed to serve as a new visual writing system which aims to represent the full phonological range of the Southern African Bantu languages. Made up of triangles, the units are based on the symbolic design traditions of southern Africa found in Sesotho mural art or Zulu beadwork. They are considered to be similar to the “Adinkra symbols of west Africa that have informed the development of ancient African writing like Egypt’s hieroglyphs, or Nigeria’s nsibidi”.
While these languages are available to the public, Blom’s is hermetically sealed; known only to him. It is a language forged from the frustration of being dyslexic, created to enable him to express and record significant life events. Blom is tight-fisted about his pictographic language, keeping it concealed in a hideaway between the bedroom cupboard and roof of his childhood home. He explains that he “cut a little lid in such a way that when you opened it you could not see it”. There he could be without any disturbances, free to express himself to himself alone.
Viewers may not be able to decipher the pictographs in “Into the Light Fantastic”, but it is readable as a dynamic, visual score spiralling out from the centre – from left to right. The spiral has traditionally represented the feminine or goddess energy. It suggests a significant shift from the oppressed feminine of Blom’s previous sculptures into an embodiment of the liberated, feminine divine.