The African principle of Ubuntu – we are whom we are because of others – finds its cognate in the Western world through an ‘empathic revolution’. Against the pandemic of narcissism, a disease and a culture epitomised by the ‘Selfie’, artists such as Andre Stead are asking us to return to a more ‘sentient’, intuitive, compassionate worldview. Preoccupied with the ‘ability to feel and to assimilate people, ideas or culture’, Stead has, as a consequence, transformed sculpture into an osmotic metaphor. His figures achieve this by allowing for transparency and letting the viewer’s eye literally pass through the sculpture’s body. In this way, Stead reminds us that self-possession and self-containment is an ego-driven and rational conceit. For example, the female figure entitled ‘Sentient’ is carved from an assembled block made of ‘one hundred tapered modular parts’. By carving this assemblage, thereby breaking the form yet again, Stead reminds us that we are composites or porous conglomerates.
While Stead’s approach is technical, his mindset is metaphysical. The sculptures are ‘designed so that when the viewer is directly in front of the artwork, at an intimate conversational distance, the negative spaces align, allowing the viewer to see through the artwork’. Stead’s reflection here is curious. His sculptures are not three-dimensional Apollonian ideals but, because they are perforated and therefore as much a thing of air as of substance, evocations of a more open-ended, more fluidly inter-connective ideal.
By Ashraf Jamal