Justine Mahoney is a Cape Town-based sculptor working in bronze whose hybrid figures present an alternative mythology for our times. Born in Johannesburg in 1971, her work is deeply informed by the dissonant realities and social fractures of growing up under Apartheid.
Rupture and transformation are major thematic concerns for Mahoney, in both her exploration of identity and her “hack-and-bash” approach of visual juxtaposition. Although her figures emanate from her own imagination, they begin as visual citations from popular and alternative culture and from art history. Children’s toys, graphic novels, ’80s magazines and music, erotica, Instagram photographs, science fiction films, Neo Classical art and traditional African sculpture all feed into the work she creates. A voracious collector of printed ephemera and digital imagery, she begins her process by making photo collages that stitch together these contrasting worlds.
Mahoney approaches each body of work as a progression. Her fascination with fantasy, child’s play and imagination, underscored by a sense of unease, make up the overarching theme of her earlier work. Her first collection, Innocence (2014), dealt with the playfulness and terrors of childhood in a series of doll-like but strangely anonymous figures. Her second series, Tainted (2016) – her first major solo exhibition and a sell-out success – traversed themes of identity related to early adolescence. The jostling schizophrenia at the heart of Mahoney’s work rises to the surface in this group of 10 figures, referred to by the artist as “an army of toy soldiers”.
Her most recent collection, Mage (2020), enters more ambiguous territory, delving into the tangled web of transformation from adolescence to adulthood. Many of the works are transgressive, tracing the dialectical forces that the artist has witnessed in her own adolescent daughters, but which she sees in all of us – power and vulnerability, desire and self-protection, broken-ness and healing.
The artist notes: “I want to capture the transformation of growing up. There is pain in letting the veil of innocence fall, but there is majesty and self-mastery in embracing all that we are too.”
Mahoney completed her National Diploma in Fine Art at the Technikon of Witwatersrand in 1991. Southern Guild has exhibited her work at international design fairs such as Design Miami, Design Miami/Basel and The Salon Art and Design in New York.