Michaela Younge

In 2020, Younge presented a new body of work as part of SMAC’s Artist Room series. She also produced an immersive virtual experience, titled Everything Must Go, in collaboration with The Plot Gallery as part of the virtual edition of FNB Art Joburg 2020. In 2019, Younge presented her solo exhibition, Nothing Bad at SMITH Gallery, in South Africa, as well as a solo presentation titled Its Low Tide and I’m Scraping the Rocks at 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London. Younge is currently working towards her third solo presentation which will take place later this year with SMAC. 

What influences your artwork?
I’m influenced by many things that filter done into my work, popular culture, current news such as the escape of ±85 crocodiles from a farm about 2 hours outside of Cape Town, I was fascinated, we drove past there at the time and I scanned the river convinced I’d see one. The crocodiles appeared in two of my works.

I’m also influenced by childhood stores, fables and cautionary tales that were created to try stop children from lying or cheating and they often are very gruesome and violent.

What’s the most important element in your artwork?
The devil’s in the details as they say, I feel like a work isn’t finished until all the small details have been added. I think that the small details in a room or scenario act almost like ‘clues’ or reference points for the viewer to add to the narrative in the work. 

Michaela Younge

Tell us about your first exhibition.
My first solo exhibition took place in 2019 at SMITH Gallery in Cape Town. The show, which was titled Nothing Bad featured twenty wool made works both on felt and found materials. The space was split into two, connected by a passageway, the works as you entered had an equestrian theme, that ended with the work Canned Ham & Prime Cuts (2019) that depicts a butchery. There is meat hanging in the background, and droëwors on the counter, while a naked man lounges in the deli display fridge waiting for customers. The work Butcher’s Hooks, Baked Goods and Romantic Candles (2019) made reference to the childhood nursery rhyme (The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker) of three men that all got into a baked potato or a tub (depending on the version you grew up with). I was interested in the idea that eyes are the “window to the soul”, and so in removing an animal’s head, one removes, in part, it’s soul or at least our way of connecting to it. This fed back into the equestrian theme, as horses throughout history have been referred to as noble steeds, or a riders other half, they are the ultimate beast of burden. In the passageway, the works shifted to adolescence anxieties and high school.

The scenes were bright and colourful, depicting cheerleaders, basketball players mascots and the like. Underlying the works were the words “nothing bad” that acted as a mantra as things fell apart, people were missing limbs, animals were fighting each other. The last room shifted again slightly to more domestic scenes or at least more intimate in a way. In A Single Dart, A Lonesome Eye (2019), a couple stand dancing in the middle of small dingy club. A drunk man behind them pours beer down his front as he misses his mouth, while an older, mostly bald man stands with his shirt unbuttoned in his underwear, a lipstick mouth on his cheek. On the back wall of the gallery, the wall was painted to match the wallpaper in “Are you looking for an excellent investment?” (2019), which depicted a family Christmas scene. The mother stands just off centre, looking back at the viewer, cigarette in hand, while her three daughters stand connected like paper dolls by the hands and dresses, smiles plastered on their expressions.

Santa, or dad, seems drunk or tired resting on the floor against an armchair with his penis out while the family cat makes a wild leap at his head. In the back corner, Krampus crouches, in wait next to the presents beneath the tree.

Can you tell us what you have going on right now?
The last two years with the pandemic have definitely changed a lot of things, especially as people stay at home more, with the lockdowns around the world being relaxed there is definitely a resurgence of energy and things happening. I have been working for the last few months towards a solo exhibition with my gallery SMAC, that will take place a little later in the year in Cape Town, and I am currently part of the group exhibition Between Strangers with Nuweland Gallery in the Netherlands. I was very fortunate recently to have been showcased on WeTransfer’s platform WePresent, which has enabled my work to have a much larger audience which has been amazing to experience.

Michaela Younge –