'Indian Ocean Dreaming' - Karen Elkington

Collection: 'Indian Ocean Dreaming' - Karen Elkington

INDIAN OCEAN DREAMING | 16.12.23 - 27.01.24

Solo Exhibition at EBONY/CURATED Bordeaux House, Franschhoek.

Growing up Karen Elkington dreamt of leaving behind the seemingly perpetual damp and cold climate of England for the balmy warmth and vibrancy of Sri Lanka, where her grandmother had been born and spoke of so longingly. These paintings are inspired by her eventual trip to Sri Lanka and are in part an attempt to capture something of what makes this beautiful island so special.

Satisfying our collective dream for a ‘beach paradise’ is a lucrative business which inevitably deprioritises environmental concerns in favour of the quick returns made on new beachfront developments, or sea-view apartment blocks. In this body of work, Elkington uses specific images from the southwest coastal area of Sri Lanka to represent all vulnerable ocean environments exploited for profit. Drawing links to the beauty of the South African coastline, which is similarly under threat, Elkington comments on the greed that inspires people to view the world as a commodity- a greed that threatens to destroy the ocean ideal we dream of.

This exhibition explores the gap between reality and perception, or rather, willing self-deception. The palm trees, ocean colours and vista-like compositions invite the viewer to believe in the perfect tropical escape. However, upon closer inspection, the subtle signals in colour and gesture undermine this initial impression. Big skies dominate the compositions; heavy grey skies hint at threat, pale drained skies suggest apathy and fatigue, with popping turquoise skies parodying brochure perfection. The brush strokes, like the use of colour, convey a message; layered to hide what lies beneath, cracked open to reveal the innards of a place- random and impulsive to create a sense of chaos. The half-finished buildings are thinly painted to imply their inconsequence and highlight the impermanence of humanity when faced with the power of nature. The aggressive tropical undergrowth and towering palm trees raise the suspicion that it might be us humans who become the victims of environmental carelessness.

In many of Elkington’s paintings, text interacts with layered visual elements on the canvas, bringing a complexity that invites viewers to read more into the surface of the image. Conversely, her compositions imbue the words with meaning beyond the literal. Set against the image of a vast languid sky, ‘sleeping in the afternoon’ can suggest both the luxurious pleasure of falling asleep in the waning heat or hint at the monumental truth that time is running out to make effective change. Elkington returns in some works, to the image of an empty couch - symbolic of our apathy toward sustainability and prioritisation of comfort over decisive action.

Indian Ocean Dreaming simultaneously perpetuates and questions our dreams of paradise. Through this collection, Elkington highlights that, ironically, the continued existence of these dream destinations depends on our willingness to wake up and confront the realities of exploitation.

Works on exhibition

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