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Next Big Things: Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum

Sunstrum’s dazzling work explores personal and family histories through the context of imaginary worlds and alternate realities

The Seven, 2020
Photo: COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND GOODMAN GALLERY JOHANNESBURG, CAPE TOWN, LONDON

Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum Photo: COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND GOODMAN GALLERY JOHANNESBURG, CAPE TOWN, LONDON

Mythology, illusionism, and fantasy are the driving forces in Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum’s vibrantly colored, otherworldly works on paper. “I am interested in using mythological archetypes to reflect on personal or family history,” says the artist, who was born in Botswana, and currently lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Ontario. “I use that term loosely, in a primordial sense.” 

Unique process: Sunstrum takes family pictures as well as 19th-century studio portraits of Black and brown characters as her starting point, before veiling and obscuring those original references with delicate layers of pencil and paint on wood panels. “What I love about drawing is that it’s understood to be provisional and temporary and because of that there is a lot of fluidity and grace to it,” she says. “I also like the relation to writing and how there is something idiosyncratic about it.”

The Two II, 2020 Photo: COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND GOODMAN GALLERY JOHANNESBURG, CAPE TOWN, LONDON

The Two I, 2020

Inspirations: William Kentridge and Bessie Head, a celebrated writer from rural Botswana as well as the Romantic landscape painter Robert S. Duncanson.

Alter Ego: Phatsimo Sunstrum invented Asme as an alter ego while she was doing her Masters Degree. “I was creating these figures using found images and I was asking a lot of them. I was feeling that I needed to put myself on the line more. I didn’t want it to seem autobiographical though, so Asme provided a bit of protection. I wanted a figure or character that could be many different people at once.” 

Grandpères, 2020 Photo: COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND GOODMAN GALLERY JOHANNESBURG, CAPE TOWN, LONDON

Up next: Following a solo show at Goodman Gallery in London, Sunstrum will present work at the gallery’s pop-up exhibition in New York.

The Seven, 2020 Photo: COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND GOODMAN GALLERY JOHANNESBURG, CAPE TOWN, LONDON

“Pamela’s multidisciplinary work is inspired by literature, but it is infused with science as she creates alter egos and a parallel universe to reflect on aspects of modern society as well as her own life.”

Jorge M. Pérez, collector and philanthropist
Cover: The Seven, 2020
Photo: COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND GOODMAN GALLERY JOHANNESBURG, CAPE TOWN, LONDON

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