Haidee Nel’s Infantry, a series of sculptures of girls and boys in quirky military uniforms are subversively playful and even colorful. They are also thought-provoking. The figures are presented and installed in formation to an unknown battleground.
Like protesting students, vulnerable gunshot victims, police brutality victims, guerrilla army fighters, war shields, survivors of family violence, or victims Catholic sexual abuse and so much more; they are vulnerable, hopeful, but not innocent. Their masks of control are unconvincing.
This future into which they are blindly and tentatively moving, is dangerous and very deeply uncertain.
Each sculpture is unique, with characteristic colour and style variations.
“Infantry” is the 'unspoken voice' of these mute warriors.
Infantry- foot soldier
Word Origin and History for infantry n. 1570s, from French infantrie, from older Italian, Spanish infanteria "footsoldiers, force composed of those too inexperienced or low in rank forcavalry," from infante "foot soldier," originally "a youth," from Latin infantem (see infant ). The meaning "infants collectively" is recorded from 1610s.
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HAIDEE NEL / Infantry I, No 16/50
The question raised is, how do we protect our children? How can children protect themselves? We all identify with pain from some point in childhood; carrying some hurt or disappointment within ourselves. How do we deal with this pain and how do we prevent it from solidifying in us; passing it on to our children and they to theirs. How can we effectively handle the pain, without internalizing it resulting in eventual abusive expression?
The sculptures have their eyes closed, "Maybe what I cannot see I won't remember". They stand at attention: clenched fists and visible nervous tension in the shoulders. Innocence is depicted by bare feet and 'Sunday-best' clothes which are tainted, yet show courage, bravery and pride. Even the poorest in South Africa dress with pride when the occasion calls for it. Bare feet struggle over the stones and rocks, but the battle must goes on, through sheer will. The pink hues within the sculptures reflect on innocence, purity and fragility. But also bloodshed. The infantry members are frail warriors, carrying a heavy burden of armour to protect them.