Susan Greeff is an experienced South African painter who has exhibited internationally. As a conceptual fine artist, and having previously worked as a midwife, her art practice focuses on issues regarding fertility, pregnancy, even gene editing and reproductive choice.
When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
My father always painted in the background of my life and from a young age I dreamt of being an artist.
Can you talk about your artistic influences and other artists you are most inspired by?
As a midwife and psychiatric Nurse in the 1980s turned Fine Artist, my practice looks at the politics of reproduction as well as how psychological and emotional states affect our wellbeing. The historian and philosopher Yuval Harari’s ideas in his books ‘Sapiens’ and ‘Homo Deus’ I find pertinent to my exploration into the editing of the human genome to create designer babies. The artist Louise Bourgeois and her work on the family, domesticity, sexuality, and the body as well as the unconscious psyche resonate with me. I refer to Jungian psychology when it comes to his ideas of archetypes and the balancing of the anima and the animus (the male and female aspects of our personalities).
Do you prefer to work alone or collaborate with others?
My preference is to work alone. My studio is a large space attached to my home. It overlooks a waterfall and the high ceilings and light are particularly beautiful at different times of the day. At the end of a workday and after I’ve washed my brushes I’m able to close the door and re-enter family life seamlessly.
Can you tell us about a project you’re currently working on?
As a once practicing nurse between the ’70s and ’80s, I am developing a series of warm, sometimes humorous representations that give the viewer a sense of both the history of nursing and the generosity of the nursing spirit. I began to think about how hard lockdown was, even for people who were historically and economically and psychologically resilient. I remembered a time as a psychiatric nurse which then lead on to thinking about nurses in general and my old nursing friends. I found photographs of myself with some of my old nursing colleagues. It takes a disaster for the world to focus its gaze on the noble professions.
2020 and 2021 are without a doubt the year of the nurse. Nursing which seldom gets attention in the media has suddenly been valorized. When nurses were hailed as heroes recently, one British nurse was quoted as saying they didn’t want to be seen as heroes but they would welcome having their professional status universally acknowledged. Underestimating the value nurses provide to healthcare systems around the world appears to be a common problem. COVID 19 has made everyone witnesses or potential witnesses to what a world without service, care, and duty towards strangers would be like. Many people with family in the hospital have relied on and been almost tearfully thankful to nurses who act as conduits of information and message between the isolated sick and their anxious loved ones.
In March this year, I have a solo exhibition entitled ‘stick it’. The exhibition is an online show. Our country has been impacted by a second wave of the virus and the status of the physical gallery space is in the balance. The body of work will include paintings, digitally manipulated photographs, and ink works on latex work across time and mediums. The works affirm the dynamism and humanity of the individual nurse, sometimes they appear to have fun, partying smoking, and gazing softly off camera. The aim of the exhibition is to not only create awareness of how undervalued nurses are but create a dialogue about what is important and what we have valued until now. Is cold capitalism how we want to continue living or are we going to start looking at our humanity? And where might qualities of benevolence, selflessness, and empathy (qualities embodied in the nurse), rate in a post-Covid tomorrow?
What do you think you would be doing if you weren’t an artist?
I swim every day in the sea and am fascinated by the magical landscape and creatures that live in the African Sea Forest. I would love to be involved in the underworld of the sea somehow.
Have you found any other artists on SINGULART whose work you admire?
I’m a fan of Robert Tillberg’s work.
What advice could you give to young artists starting out?
Work on your art practice every day. Visit galleries and exhibitions. Read widely. Once the world opens up again travel to far-flung places and keep your heart open to life.