We came across Dan Halter’s work on a cold First Thursday and were immediately captured by his vivid and striking images. Dan possesses the unique ability to take materials ubiquitous to South Africa and use them to tackle pervasive issues affecting Africa and, more specifically, Zimbabwe.
Who is Dan Halter?
I am a conceptual artist making work about Zimbabwe and South Africa, and tackling issues I find personally relevant. I grew up in Zimbabwe and relocated here to study art. I also have Swiss roots on both sides of my family and have spent some time in Switzerland.
How and why did you start making art?
I started drawing and then painting when I was quite young which I really enjoyed. I was encouraged by my family and I decided early on that I would like to pursue a career as an artist. I have always found art to be a great way to express myself. I also like the fact that I am more or less free to do whatever I want, whenever I want.
I was fortunate that my grandmother enrolled me for art classes with Helen Lieros at Gallery Delta in Harare at the age of 10 or 11. There, on Saturday mornings, I attended free-spirited art classes that I continued throughout high school, doing O and A Level art there as an extra subject.
Do you consider yourself firstly a Zimbabwean living in South Africa or an African living in South Africa?
I do feel a strong connection to both Zimbabwe and South Africa. I spent the first half of my life, including the most formative years, in Zimbabwe (18 years) and the second half in South Africa (20 years up until now). I also spent 4 years in Switzerland, 2 influential years after leaving home for the first time at the age of 18, and 2 after graduating from Michaelis School of Fine Art.
Your current exhibition Cross the River in a Crowd includes a sculpture of a mother with a baby on her back, balancing a load on her head. Tell us more about this imagery.
The mother and child is a recurring theme in art and I have used variations of this in my art before. In Shona sculpture, the abstract mother and child embracing is so common that it often found as a curio. In this version of mine, the mother is carrying her child on her back and a load on her head in a way that is common in Zimbabwe. The load in my work is vastly exaggerated and suggests the balancing rock formations common to Zimbabwe that are also depicted on many Zimbabwean bank notes. For me, the image of a mother and child, half-submerged in a river border crossing, with all her worldly possessions on her head, suggests the height of desperation.
What is your process for choosing material for a project?
I choose materials that resonate with me. The project will normally dictate the materials in some way. The starting point may be a proverb or expression that lends itself to being visualised in a certain way. I gravitate towards cheap and ubiquitous materials such as plastic-weave bags, matches, paint sample cards and beads. The process of making the work is often labour-intensive.
How do you know when a work is finished?
When I used to paint, I struggled with this issue and I often over-worked my paintings. With the work I make now, I am more removed from the process and so it is easier for me to tell when something is finished.
What is the best advice you have been given?
It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than than to ask for permission.
You have a brilliant ability to tackle pervasive issues that affect the majority of Africa. How do you manage to stay both personal and original in your creative endeavours?
Thank you. I am inspired by stories and there is an abundance of good stories to be found here.
If you could change one aspect of our society through your work, what would it be?
I would like my work to challenge people and hopefully create a more tolerant and understanding society.
Have you ever been faced with negative feedback? How was this reflected in your work, if at all?
I have been faced with some negative feedback that I did not agree with and it has not reflected in my work.
What is coming up next for you?
I have an exhibition coming up with This is No Fantasy, a collaboration between respected Melbourne gallerists Dianne Tanzer and Nicola Stein, in Australia in November.
Where can people find out more about you and your work?
Via my website: www.danhalter.com
DAN’S PROJECT IS ON EXHIBITION AT WHATIFTHEWORLD/GALLERY UNTIL 31 AUGUST 2019