The life of an artist is that of an impetus to humanity’s search for beauty, truth and understanding. A breed entirely apart, struggling to bring forth onto the canvas of a chosen media, feelings and emotions that a mere commoner would note only in passing. Dutch born and Antwerp based visual artist Ingrid Baars dwells upon that exacting paradigm. Not an easy task when your role models are the likes of Picasso, Man Ray and Dali.
A truly accomplished visual artist in the purest sense of the term, Baars began her career as a professional photographer. Yet it quickly dawned upon her that the dictates of commercial assignments although lucrative, were somewhat restraining her ability to fully give way to her creative voice. Her striking digital collages are a living testimony to the creative boldness she sets upon herself, as she bravely attempts to reveal the sacral sanctity of the female form.
Incredibly powerful in presence yet unwaveringly beautiful, Baar’s artwork offers a state-of-the-art appreciation of modern surrealism. It shatters all restrictions concurring to the symbolic nature of the female body. Her oeuvre is unique, both for its wonderful idiosyncrasies and its fervent poetry.
Baars’ challenge is many-fold. First, the compulsion to materialise a vision that truly expresses her rigorous nature. Through the lance of her camera, on the screen of her computer, she dares to confront her trepidations. Placing them under the magnifying glass of creation, she painstakingly conceives artworks that must above all remain significant to the peremptory standard of her own imaginative mind. Then, once the work has been created, begins the excruciating process of letting it out into the world, hoping that art lovers and collectors alike will embrace if not understand what has been achieved.
Throughout history and spanning across numerous cultures, the female form has remained the centerfold of mankind’s imagination. It has also been a theme of predilection for countless artists scoping from the expressionist, avant-garde and surrealist artistic movements.
Therefore it is befitting that Baars’ artistry so vibrantly echoes that of masters such as Braque, Picasso, Modigliani, Brancusi, Dali or Francis Bacon. The friendly ghosts of collage pioneers such as Hannah Höch, Kurt Schwitters or Cecil Touchon also stand close to her pulsating heart.
Contemporary artists like Orlane, Cindy Sherman or Vanessa Beecroft have greatly contributed to instate the concept of body modification as a form of self empowerment for women; often using their own flesh as a performing canvas in order to exhort the notion of beauty to its absolute paroxysm. Yet Baars’ “à-propos” somewhat differs from her peers. Through her intricate digital collages, she unearths a newfound iconography of the female form. One that is truly remarkable not only in its conceptual use of cutting-edge technology, but also in the sense that its intrinsic aesthetic value could not be any farther than any derivative work. Indeed, Baars single-handedly shoots, designs and creates every element comprised in her final artwork.
In her previous series, “Artist-Lovers”, Baars paid tribute to Western female icons of the past such as Dora Mare, Lee Miller, or Kiki de Montparnasse; yet her current opus entitled “L’Afrique !” clearly marks a departure from the surrealistic style of her earlier craft. It is also undeniably her most personal contribution to date.
Baars has long been inspired by art from the continent. With “L’Afrique !”, an ongoing series since 2011, she continues her exploration of the female form yet this time by looking through the inscrutable prism of classical African art; more precisely taking inspiration from cultural references such as sculptures, ritual masks, corporeal scarification and so forth.
However “L’Afrique !” resonates a continuity with her previous body of work, in the sense that it remains an abstraction of femininity. Her imagery confronts with notions of objectification, sexuality, maternalism and piety which can be confounding, as they equally attract and repel. What ultimately remains powerful, is that each artwork summons the attention of the viewer. Upon closer sight, a deeper sense of fragility and humanity clearly dominates.
La Reine, 2011.
Numerous Western artists have been inspired by the female African figure. Although several post-colonial art gimmicks remain highly questionable, many great masterpieces of the 20th century can be directly linked to the African cradle. Strangely, the art world at large still fails to acknowledge and appreciate the profound and resounding role of the continent in the history of modern art.
In ancient Egypt, women were the catalysis of many divine attributes. Often depicted as druids portending prophetic omens and the power to convey the will of the gods, they conducted sacred rituals that would have been considered unholy if performed by men. In Greek mythology, women also gave form to countless monsters such as sirens, sphinx, gorgons and chimeras and other demonized deities from the matriarchal cultures of the past.
With “L’Afrique !”, Baars manages to shed a new light onto such bygone dogmas. Far more than muses, mere objects of admiration or pleasure sub-servants to the seemingly dominating male, her hybrid creations are a crossbreed between goddesses and royal sorceresses. Newly hatched divine entities that quietly dwarf over us as if to reinforce the prevalence of a cosmic dimension substantial to the manifold world of spirits.
Venturing closer to the realms of her own sub-consciousness, Baars unbolts a sort of esoteric zeitgeist through which the spirits of all women, mythical, god and earth like; mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, widows and concubines are all transmuted into one fundamental paradigm of spiritual enlightenment.
Baars’s artwork is imbued with a sort of revolutionary essence that unearths unique cross-cultural references. Her highly abstracted representations of the African female form appears to echo the figurines of the Pre-dynastic period as well as the dark ebony statuettes of the royal court of ancient Dahomey.
Bodies are unusually interconnected, with mesmerising beak-like faces that reveal mixed racial features. Amalgamated skin complexions beautifully contrast with constituents of “nature morte” like precious wood showing cracks or rusty nails that fuse with corporeal scarification.
Traditional ornamental fragments are layered with various decorative components that include frosted lace, encrusted gems and crystals, exuberant head pieces or luminescent lip-gloss, often hinting to a certain Western refinement. They all fuse to ultimately stem into visually compelling artworks that would undoubtedly set off the radar of many highly praised hair & make-up artists on red alert.
Rose Mary, 2012.
Her formidable phantasmagorias transmit a compound message about racial identity. They also emphasize the social, political, and religious functions of femininity; one that is prevailing both within the African and Western social contexts.
Attempting to blur the differences between the so called “westernized” and the “traditional” African woman, Baars deliberately chooses to hold her characters within an essentially ethereal background in order to bring focus on their pure aesthetic value.
With “L’Afrique !”, Ingrid Baars transmutes into a self-improvised spiritual medium. Provoking uncharted subject matters such as mysticism and animism, she tackles with great humour, kindness and temperance, issues that remain inherent to the DNA of past and contemporary Africana.
In order to remain truthful to the essentially poetic psyche of her oeuvre, Baars is willing to endure the sort of impracticalities that many artists of today would not have the courage to face up to. This alone, sets her far apart from the cohorts of her generation.
Ingrid Baars graduated from the Willem de Kooning Academie, Rotterdam and went on to launch a successful career as a commercial photographer. In 2010 she decided to step away from commercial photography to pursue her artistic career. Following the series ‘Artist-Lovers’, she has gone on to develop her latest body of work titled “L’Afrique !”A continuing exploration of her favored subject matter – the female form yet in this instance through the prism of classical African art. Here her figures are elaborated upon with strong references to both worlds of modeling and fashion. Baars has been the subject of numerous high profile exhibitions in Paris, New-York, Miami, London, Brussels and Amsterdam. Baars is the recipient of multiple prizes and nominations. The artist is currently based in Antwerp, Belgium.
For more insight | ingridbaars.com
Her next exhibition titled Ingrid Baars – Part Two featuring “L’Afrique !” opens later this month in Amsterdam, running from March 16 – April 17, 2013.
Galerie Pien Rademakers | KNSM-Laan 291, Amsterdam, The Netherlands| More info
Written by Joyce Bidouzo-Coudray
All images courtesy of the artist. All rights reserved.