In February 2020, the author spent a day with Penny Siopis in her studio at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town, to discuss the artist’s new ink and wood-glue paintings, which she adopted in 2008 as her primary painting medium. This new direction is quite significant for an artist who, in the 1980s at the height of the antiapartheid movement, made ardently realistic figurative oil and mixed-media paintings that signified the psychic detritus of apartheid’s pathologies. The weighty sparseness of Siopis’s Cake paintings (1981–81) and the airless excess of the History paintings (late 1980s) might have been the artist’s way of both dealing with and reflecting on the psychology of apartheid as the institution lurched to its inevitable end in 1990. In the early 2000s, before settling on ink and wood glue, Siopis spent a few years producing oil and ink paintings that contributed to the making of postapartheid trauma art—investigations into the psychic, moral, and ethical abjections of apartheid in the wake of testimonies from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Her ink and glue works represent the conjunction of material, process, and subject matter: Siopis relies on and is challenged by the unpredictable mixing and flow of ink, glue, and water—material acts, as she calls them—that evolve as the sum and interplay of autonomous agencies of medium and artist. Siopis’s most recent work in this medium and her film She Breathes Water (2019) allegorize global warming and the devastating impact of human exploitation of nature—elegies to present and coming catastrophes.

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