John-Michael Metelerkamp’s life struggle and the path by which he came to be an artist and engaged in his current body of work is complex, harrowing and scarred by struggles with drugs, mental health issues and constant psychic anguish. That he has empowered himself to overcome that which can be overcome and how he is managing and dealing – on a daily basis – with such inner demons that must be kept at bay within the self, is a tribute to his ability to transcend the seemingly unmanageable hurdles that life has put in his way.
This body of work, entitled Nekkies, forms a substantial and coherent reflection and, perhaps more importantly, self-reflection on one individual’s examination of his own place and space in the world and his own relation to those around him.
Superficially, that physical place is Knysna, where the artist resides at present, and, more specifically, it is an engagement with and an artistic exploration of a highway settlement on the outskirts of Knysna, an area simply known as Nekkies. Unlike the sylvan privilege of what most visitors to this exhibition may conjure up as ‘Knysna’, this space that people call home, where many work and where recreation is to be found, is, in truth, profoundly marked and circumscribed by the daily struggles and challenges deeply rooted in the iniquities that are still the relentless legacy of apartheid, colonialism and unjust land ownership in South Africa.
It seems that Metelerkamp is not undertaking this reflective task voyeuristically, sentimentally or unthinkingly. Rather than pensively being an observer of the struggles and hard-won victories of the people of Nekkies, these works act more as a looking-glass, aligned to and in tempo with the struggles that he has personally endured and continues to grapple with in his inner life and daily grind. This is not about desolation or despair but rather the works are about the manner in which one can transcend inconceivable odds to become whole, spit in the face of injustice and, quite simply, be.