Dominique Sarah Benton is an illustrator from South Africa and became a member of the Daejeon Arts Collective in 2011. Her work, at first glance, appears charmingly cute and innocently playful, but then draws you into an uncanny world of twisted figures hinting at underlying themes of sexuality and bordering on the grotesque. Dominique went back home in October 2012, due to the death of her father. We decided to check in and see what she’s been up to since moving back home.
Can you tell us about the pop + absurd quality to your illustrations?
Dominique Sarah Benton: The style in which I work falls into the pop art category. My reference materials consist of pornographic images and animals. Theories surrounding deconstruction influence my practice, I take apart the human sexual form, rebuild and combine it with physical animal characteristics. The cute and bright nature of my work acts as a tool to draw in a larger audience. On closer inspection they are then confronted with the reality of the image. My work ranges from 2D illustrations to sculptural 3D mixed media pieces that are sometimes a combination of drawing and sculpture. All works act as an ongoing process. Nothing is final as none of my work is ever really conclusive. Process is of the utmost importance as it allows room for criticism and for my skill and theory to continually develop and improve.
Since my return to South Africa I been slowly rearranging my conceptual direction. Gender theories and social inequalities still heavily influence my practice. In 2013 I studied pre-colonial and colonial Southern African history as a non degree through Unisa. In 2014 I studied a post-graduate in education through the University of Cape Town. My practice is always informed by theory and where I find myself learning and working. South Africa has a desperately unequal educational system, which still resonates social ills from apartheid era. Despite the constitution, much has still not been placed into practice. A debate surrounding theory vs practice influences my process work. I find myself shifting towards aspects of social and economic problems within South Africa. A new era of protest is among us. I would never want to speak for those who have a voice. Education, especially art education, gives me an opportunity to show the youth how to speak for themselves. My practice involves social activism towards issues surrounding class, constructs, capitalism, gender inequality and inequalities in basic human rights such as education.
Did living in Korea have any profound impact on your work?
DSB: It did to an extent that it made me as a white female very much aware of what it felt to be the “other” definitely not to the extent as what previously discriminated ‘races” have felt it. But it was eye-opening. I am hyper observant. The mass culture aesthetic only strengthened my own aesthetic and the social hierarchies that exist in such extremes in South Korea only reinforced my own desire to challenge. On my return I saw my own country in new light. I was disillusioned before being in my ‘white’ bubble and only commenting on issues around gender, when there were much bigger battles to fight. Yes feminism is still prevalent in my work. I do not wish to adopt someone else’s struggles. However I see us as one people, if my brothers and sisters do not have access to the same rights as I do, they are not truly free, and therefore neither am I. But seeing a country with such economic freedom, like South Korea, made me only really want to reject it. I found that capitalism only fuels hierarchies and inequality. Korea having very intense social and cultural ones. I questioned a lot more than I had done before. I matured through experiences in South Korea and brought that maturity back with me. To peruse education and a change in stance in my own personal practice.
What have you been up to since leaving Korea and what has the transition been like?
DSB: Coming back to no job or income was difficult. Many stay in Korea because the work is easy and the money is good. This only perpetuates the economic problems back home. Trying to practice in Cape Town is a matter of who you know and how cool you are. My savings ran out fast and I needed to focus on a seriously stable income. I still drew everyday, and have up until I started teaching full-time. In 2013 I worked as a learner facilitator for a student with special needs, took a course in applied behavioural analysis at a centre for children with autism, and studied South African history. In 2014 I studied full-time through UCT, extending my student debt to new heights, and generally trying to change my focus towards others surrounding me. As an artist, one can become very selfish and self involved. I chose a practical path which would force me to be more others centred. I work much harder when others rely on me. I felt I needed to do work which was hard and humbling. I have a tendency to run away when things get difficult. Living here is difficult, but it is more difficult for others.
I have white privilege. I need to teach and use that privilege to the advantage of others, not myself. My practice will always be informed by my experience, but if my experience is serving others, my practice will become much stronger. I have a socialist view now. Before I was comfortable in my bubble of ignorance. I am now constantly uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable makes us learn much more. I have an all female group show happening in August. I don’t have as much time to work on my practice as I would like, but I am contributing to society never the less. My work will reflect these thoughts and discussions. I am also incredibly obsessed with research. I spend ever moment on the internet. The internet is the new form of mass pop media, a lot of my reference images and material come from the oddities of the internet; ‘trending’ subject matter like cats to pizza work as a vessel to carry a deeper message and draw in a larger audience. The ‘bait’ so to say behind the meaning. I will use my practice to make the more privileged (and the ones who have access to the internet in South Africa) aware of what I have become aware of. I want to return to more sculptural works, illustration and larger mural like drawings. The pop aesthetic will still exist, but will have matured and as said above, be referenced from #trending material found of the web. Being an artist is an ongoing process. We should never deny the process, but process and “finality” will be weighted more equally in my work as before. Teaching comes naturally to me, and so does questioning. These will be strong influences in my work. As well as the traumatic transition of adolescence into adulthood.
Dominque Sarah Benton (b. 1987) graduated with an honours degree in Fine Arts from the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa. She then obtained her PGCE in 2014 from the University of Cape Town. She has participated in solo and group shows, co-created the label Friend or Foe, creative directed South African artist Jack Parow’s clothing label, Parowphernalia, whilst doing various colourful odd-jobs along the way from telemarketing to working at a sex shop. Her commercial projects are usually signed under the artistic aliases of either Orangeplaydough or Friend or Foe and her personal projects signed under her own name.
She is currently a full-time high school teacher.
Additional source: http://www.anotherafrica.net/featured/featured-dominique-sarah-benton