Vivienne KOORLAND (b. 1957)

b. 1957, Cape Town, South Africa

Lives and works in New York, USA


Koorland was born in Cape Town, South Africa and is known as one of the most important female artists working in South Africa during the times of the Apartheid, until the present day. Her monumental paintings of rough, collaged material, layered textiles, built up texts and found objects which are glued, stitched and bound over linen, manifest as palimpsests of historical memory and trauma. Objects from the past such as black and white photographs, cigarette cards, newsprint and book spines are attached to linen and burlap on canvas, creating time capsules of history. The heavily detailed and often huge scale paintings channel a direct response to the memory of war, migration and colonisation, which is both personal to the artist, and relates to so many others.


The daughter of a Polish migrant mother who lost her parents in Auschwitz during World War II, Koorland’s work reflects her own lived experience and embodies feelings of loss, not belonging, and lost memories. In the 80s, she relinquished the human figure in her work: the question ‘what did you do during the war?’ was too painful and burning for her to bear when engaging with another individual. Traces of place-names, species, stylised figures and maps appear in her paintings, bearing the ethical resonance of a post-traumatic subjectivity, and showing an influence of German philosophers Theodor Adorno and the Frankfurt School.


‘It occurred to me a long time ago that the less rooted I felt in a place, the more I needed the paintings to be heavy, both content-wise and as objects’ (VK).


Koorland began painting at an early age. Educated under Apartheid, studying Fine Art at the University of Cape Town, she was politically engaged, and illustrated the Xhosa-language dockworkers’ newspaper ABASEBENZI (Translation: worker). After graduating in 1978 from the University of Cape Town, she was awarded grants to study at the Universität der Künste Berlin (1981), the École des Beaux-Arts Paris (1982), Columbia University, New York (1984) and the Skowhegan School, Maine, USA (1983). Vivienne Koorland (b. 1957 in Cape Town, South Africa) lives and works in New York, NY. Her works have been the subject of numerous solo and group exhibitions, including William Kentridge & Vivienne Koorland: Conversations in letters and lines,  Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland (2016); Shifting the Gaze: Painting and Feminism , The Jewish Museum, New York, NY (2010); HOME LANDS – LAND MARKS: Contemporary Art from South Africa , Haunch of Venison, London (2008); 2nd Johannesburg Biennial, Johannesburg, South Africa (1997); Reisemalheurs  (Travel Woes), Freud Museum, London, UK (2007).