Jill Joubert – Sculpture meets Puppetry and Storytelling


Until 18h30 on August 4, 2016 , I had never heard of, nor seen the work of Jill Joubert and so was not prepared for the visual feast that hit me that first Thursday as I walked into the Smith Gallery in Cape Town.
Smith gallery were hosting an exhibition titled ‘The Invasion by Stately Queens Come to Rescue Princesses Trapped in Four Impenetrable Towers’. Not a title that trips easily off the tongue after a glass or two of questionable quality first Thursday red wine, but it does suggest something of the narrative of this amazing woman’s work.
Jill Joubert the artist behind this extraordinary work was a founding member of the handspring puppet company and very influential South African puppeteer. (Side note: I love first Thursdays because you can be a complete no nothing art appreciator and still experience and learn in an environment that is relaxed and less up its own bottom than more formal artistic environs.😬)
The exhibition is an installation of wood sculpture combined with an eclectic mix of found objects from toy wheels to bones, shells, recycled bits of sculpture, driftwood. The exhibition has its source in creation myths and folklore.


The wooden sculptures form part of a story , a fairy tale, a coming of age story that you pass through as you navigate the gallery.
Jill has chosen in this exhibition to focus on a young girl as the heroine in stories in which she is aided by an older woman rather than their male counterparts. The Virgin girl, or princess, in the process of maturing into her womanhood, has to leave home and embark on a dangerous journey. Inevitably an old woman, fairy, will come to her aid, but only if the maiden is kind and pure of  heart. In addition animals of the earth,sea and air  will also help her.


In this particular body of work the title suggests a story. There is a beginning, the messenger, the dance, the sacrifice. There are four towers. However unlike the stereotypical prince in Folktales, there are instead twelve invading queens riding on mounts reminiscent of mythical animals and strangely primitive vehicles. Observing from above are ‘the watchers’. Finally there are the guardian spirits hovering over the towers.


What’s always fascinated me about art and sculpture particularly is the personal experience that the viewer has (or sometimes doesn’t have at all) with a piece. There was something that drew me into this exhibition and really moved me. Perhaps the ingenious combination of sculpture with  found objects, maybe the subject matter. “Sisters doing it for themselves” perhaps it was having a little girl of my own and identifying with the idea of a invading queen being there to rescue her and guide her in times of need as she grows up and discovers the big wide world. Whatever it was, the pieces speak for themselves and they are magnificent.

Hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I do.

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