Tamara Osso’s exhibition Making Grass is at intersections of painting, drawing and dance

By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor

When I arrived at the gallery, you could tell from the outside that something of public interest was about to happen inside the gallery as other people were arriving at the same time as I did. What struck me though was the number of children that were part of the audience at the opening of visual artists Tamara Osso’s exhibition at David Krut Project Gallery on Jam Smuts Venue, Parkwood on Saturday 1 July 2023.

Honestly speaking there is n0othing unusual in Johannesburg to see children attending an exhibition in the company of their parents. It is just that on this particular day, there were simply a large number of them. I knew right away that there was action at this exhgibitio0n as the young and energetic ones tend to be attracted by events where there is action

Indeed my instincts were correct because sooner than later as the exhibitio0n space filled up with both young and old in anticipation, with some seated to give those3 behind them a view of the centre space where action was going to take place, there was a bit of scramble in the crowd, positioning themselves strategically in the room in order to have a full view of the ‘stage’ the centre space where action was going to happen, anytime right there in front of our eyes.

IN no time a group of male dancers strutted on stage, we all held our breath in the room as one my one they entered the stage, executed their intricate dance moves as they did so, and soon the canvas that was laid at the centre was a beautiful mess as sooner Tamara entered the centre stage, started dancing and painting on the canvas at the same time.

All the males and Tamara were soon in that state where dance and painting with their brushes melded into a beautiful mess that transformed what a few minutes ago, was a squeak white and clean canvass into a beautiful mess of white and black. In those among us well read in art started seeing similarities between the now beautiful art piece on the centre stage with the art on the walls. The similarities were there for us to notice and admire. It was a beautiful experience that left all of us in awe of the artists, the dancers who under the leadership of Tamara had turned into painters using their bodies, their legs, their hands and their minds to create something that we all admired on the floor, right there.

When I s[poke to Osso after the performance, she explained how what we had just witnessed was a product of a collaborative effort between herself and two institutions operating in the inner city, which on their own are assisting in transforming young people’s lives, Moving Into Dance in Newtown, founded by one dynamic individual with a huge vision, Sylvia “Magogo”Glasser, and Lefika LaPhidiso, an organisation that works with inner city youth, transforming their lives from that of hopelessness to that of a people who see beyond the limitation of their circumstances on the margin of mainstream society to that of possibility.

The Managing Director of Lefika LaPhodiso is Rozanne Myburgh an arts therapist specializing in drama therapy. Myburgh, who opened the exhibition explained that often people have issues bottled in their subconscious minds and such issues often come out through self-expressions such as dance, painting, drawing or any other form of performance art.  y.

I first got to know about the work of Lefikaa LaPhodiso in March this year when the organisation organised a hip hop festival in which the young people the organisation works with were the performers. The festival took place during the Constitutional Hill’s Human Rights Festival in March. I was personally impressed by what I saw during that festival, especially watching the young people from Hillbrow and inner Johannesburg and its surrounds self-express themselves through hip hop.

“I approached Moving into Dance to see if I could work with the dancers in creating this work. It was a collaborative effort. I worked with Lefika LaPhodiso, as personally I have a child who has a disability but now has been assisted,” Osso said in an interview. Lefika LaPhodiso offers counselling services as well as therapy using art.

“David Krut Projects is pleased to present Making Grass, an exhibition of new drawings and prints, as well as a performance piece, by Tamara Osso. The artist uses interdisciplinary collaborations and acts of collective imagining to explore how dance and drawing can augment each other.

The collaboration at the centre of this project, between Osso and the Afro-fusion dance company Moving Into Dance (MID), was organised around the idea of imagining a green space together – a lawn in the city – where the dancers and Osso could playfully explore the range of marks that can be generated when the whole body is activated as a thing that draws.

Using the metaphor of making a lawn, and the dance studio as the place to lay the lawn, the project is about consistently nurturing and maintaining ideas around individual identity, open spaces, and collective ideology. How can we collectively imagine safe spaces, spaces for experimentation and play? And how can drawings become maps of these collective imaginings? Making Grass explores whether it is possible to invent a new metaphorical landscape grounded in community, collective stories, experimentation, conversation, movement, and mark-making. Processes of translation and transformation have been integral to producing the works included in this exhibition. First there was a process of researching dance and choreographic modalities through drawing,”says David Krut Projects in a statement accompanying this exhibition.

The ritual of visiting the Moving into Dance studios began with regular observational drawing as a mode for researching dance and movement. Next, choreography and dance were used as means of creating drawings, linking different parts of the body with different kinds of mark-making. The third process of translation occurred when Osso entered the print studio at Eleven Editions and re-interpreted the first order visual translation of dance into a strongly graphic language.

For Osso the multimodality and the collaborative nature of the processes that have led to this body of work are a microcosmic experiment with the acts of communication and collectivity that we activate in society more broadly. How can we collectively imagine safe spaces, spaces for experimentation and play? And how can drawings become maps of these collective imaginings.

But who is Tamara Osso

 Tamara Osso is a Johannesburg-based artist whose work explores a trail of connections between painting, dance and other forms of movement. Drawing deeply on her personal experience as a professional dancer and as a mother to a child with a disability, she is interested in how different kinds of movement are available to different bodies in different contexts.

 For Osso, physical movement is a form of embodied research, and in her painting practice she looks for ways to draw connections between the dynamism of the body and visual languages. The proprioceptive act of painting, the way that making a painting is always a process of situating one’s body in relation to material, becomes a metaphor for how space is inhabited and experienced more broadly. As a woman negotiating different public and private spaces in Johannesburg, she is constantly aware of how safety and freedom are coded in the aesthetics of the city and the suburbs. Osso holds an MA in Fine Arts (cum laude) and a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (cum laude) both from Wits University. In 2022, her first solo exhibition Paradise of Normality was presented at the Firestation in Johannesburg in collaboration with Lizamore & Associates. Her award-winning work as a dancer and performer has been seen in theatres and festivals locally and internationally, including Dance Umbrella (Johannesburg), the Baxter Theatre (Cape Town), The Grand Theatre (Shanghai), Tianqiao Performance Center (Beijing) and Asia World Arena (Hong Kong).

If you missed the opening, you can still catch up on the action by visiting the exhibition as it is currently on till the end of July, and am sure you will still be able to perceive the energy of the performance that happened on Saturday as it is bound to linger in the gal;lery for the duration of the exhibition.

.Making Grass, is on David Krut Projects, Johannesburg 142 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parkwood till July 29, 2023.

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