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Q&A with sustainability artist Rose-Marie Burger

by | Jun 26, 2020

Needing change, visual artist Rose-Marie Burger moved to an isolated farm in the Northern Cape last year. There, she lives off the grid and focuses on her art. She specialises in bold, line work which celebrates the female form. “I came here with limited art supplies, knowing I would run out and be forced to innovate.”
Rose-Marie was invited to take up a residency at Levi’s Haus of Strauss in Africa as part of Levi’s 25th anniversary celebration in Johannesburg last year. There, she hosted a one-on-one workshop on making paper from denim. She previously taught herself how to do this after receiving a commission that required a type of paper that she did not have. Through research and testing, she created paper from denim off-cuts. This image is an artwork on paper made from a pair of denims her father gave her when she was in primary school.

 

 

Rose-Marie is described by @levishausafrica as an artist who will have meaningful impact on both the art and fashion world. We caught up with the artist via email:

What is your favourite part of being an artist?

Everything. By no means is it easy, but the learning and growing never stops and I love that.

Why do you use line drawings?

I’ve always been fascinated with space, the weight of it and how it responds when a simple line, dot or small object is introduced. Working with lines only and keeping my work minimal becomes interesting when you start noticing that the blank spaces also carry a weight and with every move you change and shift it.

 

 

Can art play a role in sustainability?

Yes! 200%! Most sustainability artists recycle waste in their artworks but there are other ways too. One example of how I use art to make a difference is by using it as an educational tool to teach sustainability to children through workshops. They’re the future, a powerful group of people to invest in.

The second example is to team up with big brands to problem solve sustainability and waste issues creatively. My most recent collaboration was with Levi’s Haus of Africa in collaboration with Rich Mnisi, for Rich Mnisi. The project is a first in the world and it will forever be celebrated under Rich’s label. I’m taking the research further and it really has the potential to change the game in a big way. If only 1/8th of brands in the world made this small change we would save millions and millions of trees i.e FORESTS!

I aim to create long term relationships with brands so projects make a real difference and truly be sustainable. A lot of companies and brands will invest a small amount of money towards a once-off sustainability project just so that they can say they are doing their part. That kind of box-ticking doesn’t make the big difference we need in the world.

What is the most important lesson to hand to the next generation?

Responsibility, creativity and self-worth.

Your thoughts on creativity?

People tend to think creativity is something one is born with. A very common misconception! Creativity is inherited, but by every single one of us. It’s a common human trait – not a gift. You can compare it to a muscle, the more you practice and exercise it the more it will grow. We are all born creative but loose creativity as we transition through life. Parents or mentors can help prevent this by encouraging and challenging kids through creative play. I find it so important as creativity helps one to become a better problem solver in all areas of life. It helps us see things differently and to better deal with uncertainty. Studies show creative people deal with uncertainty and change better because they allow for the flow of uncertainty. An incredibly powerful tool to equip children with.

 

 

What challenges does your community faces?

Socially, definitely inequality. I don’t even know where to begin or how to answer this right now. As a white person living in South Africa I’m checking my privileges and educating myself. South Africa is going through massive change that in my opinion is a few years too late. It’s 2020 and someone of colour still has to argue their right to be treated equally? Informal settlements being torn down in pouring rain in the midst of a pandemic without any warning or relocation! It’s absolutely inhumane. Then on top of that we have gender-based violence… it’s a very complex set of issues. We have decades and decades of unlearning and un-doing to do. It’s important to educate ourselves on matters so that we can fight an impactful fight, rather than one driven by emotions and anger.

Climate wise. Where do I start? We have a long way to go!

How are you experiencing the pandemic?

For me, it’s been a good time take a step back and gain perspective on my ideas and goals. I’ve used the time to up-skill myself. In the beginning of lockdown I enrolled in a few online courses: Introduction to Psychology through Yale, Corporate Sustainability, Sustainable Fashion, Global Health and Introduction to Human Rights…

Most of these took a back seat, when I enrolled for a few Black History courses. They are mostly American-focused – I’m yet to find one that tells the story of South-African/ African Black History. If anyone reading this can suggest any, please inbox me.
With regards to Covid 19…It’s difficult to grasp the full extent of complications it’s presenting us with. That being said, I believe this period of forced “hibernation” will bring about change for the better. We’ll definitely understand what truly is important to us. All the nonsense and extra noises in our lives will fall away and we’ll innovate new ways to do better.

 

 

What do you define as success in the art world?

What and who is this art world really? It’s supposedly so democratic and open to everyone but in reality its so cliquish and elitist that only a handful have access or opportunity to be apart. I guess success in the art world as we know it, would then be to survive it!

Otherwise the only way I can connect success and art/creating is in this way – as soon as you stop giving a damn about what other people think and you start doing you. As soon as you’re producing and creating for yourself and not to just feed people things to buy. As soon as you get to a point where you are creating to create and get it all out of you. Then, I think, you have achieved success.

What is your biggest influence?

I’m a big fan of Gunter Pauli, author of The Blue Economy. During my transitional phase, a social media contact based in Berlin told me about this book which I immediately ordered. Reading it tipped me into a completely new way of thinking which in turn steered my career into an exciting new direction. The book is about the marriage of science, innovation and entrepreneurship and creating new business models inspired by the systems in nature.

Favourite quote?

My favourite quote is from my favourite book [The Blue Economy by Gunter Pauli]: “Nature knows no waste and everyone has a job ”.

What Instagram are you loving at the moment?

My Maaikes, a new local and sustainable toy brand that encourages creativity through sustainability and play. You can find them on Instagram.

Portraits by Olivia Mortimer:

 

 

 

Portraits: shot at Levi’s Haus Africa by Olivia Mortimer and styled by Amy Zama. Other images supplied by artist. Follow Rose-Marie Burger on Instagram.

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