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.”
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.”
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.
“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