Lawyer-Turned-Sculptor Dora Prévost Uses Her Work as a Voice for Women

Dora Prévost is a sculptor born in the Democratic Republic of Congo who uses her work as a voice for women’s issues. Now based in Johannesburg, Prévost’s art focuses on breaking the silence around gender-based violence and injustices that women face today. We had the pleasure of chatting to Prévost about her work and her most recent exhibition, Metamorphosis.

Dora Prevost with one of her sculptures

How would you describe your style of work to someone seeing your pieces for the first time?

The first word coming to my mind is bold, because I’m not scared to dare, maybe because of the fact that I did not learn the principles of art at school or maybe because I’m not trying to replicate reality. I would also say contrast. I believe contrast and exaggeration are the common theme running through my work, be it physical, emotional or spiritual. I search for connections between opposites: attraction and repulsion, love and hatred, dignity and shame, fragility and strength.

A central theme or messaging that’s present throughout your work is gender-based violence and injustices faced by women. Why is it important for you to tackle this?

I hate violence and injustice, I think that is why I went into law studies to fight for justice. When I started sculpting I did not plan to take this route, but through my work the same theme was coming back, this saying by Ghandi became my mantra; “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” For me it is as clear as this. When we are silent, we stand on the side of the oppressor. For me, silence equals violence. I want to empower other women to speak out, and learn to say “NO” to violence. Art is a universal language and I want to use this platform to raise awareness and leave a legacy to pass on to my own children and future generations.

How is this messaging portrayed in your work? What elements are used to communicate this message?

Contrasts and strong oppositions are some of the ways I emphasise fragility and vulnerability. A good example of this can be seen in ‘Who-Men’, a work I produced for the PPC Imaginarium competition in 2018. It depicted four women suffering from different types of violence, morale or physical, in quite an arresting way. It was shortlisted to the finals and went on a tour across South African galleries, so I think it was quite effective.

What prompted you to tackle such issues through art?

One could say it comes from my youth in the DRC, where I lived some of the civil unrests during the Kabila years. Even during my professional career, I was pulled toward humanitarian causes. But I’d say that it also came naturally as I was inspired by bringing a woman’s perspective on femininity. Especially in sculpture, which I am told, is a very masculine discipline.

Artists and creatives as a whole are agents within society and have the power to drive change. As an artist who focuses on the aforementioned topics, what change do you wish to bring about or see in today’s society?

I know that art can’t abolish violence but it can open conversation. I trust and wish that my work will give the audience an opportunity to wonder and start making the change in their own circles.

You recently opened a solo exhibition titled Metamorphosis. Tell us about the exhibition and some of the works that are being exhibited.

Metamorphosis is about change, and in my eyes, a message of hope, of being given a second chance. Just like a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly. I wanted to celebrate the power of re-birth, when one accepts oneself the way one is: this means honoring the beauty and the dignity of our unique personalities and being true to ourselves.

The hero sculpture of the exhibition represents a golden face trying to emerge from its old body. She has beautiful Kudu horns, which represent strength and power. Another one is a personal take on a guardian angel. It shows the back of a young man, going through transformation with horns coming out of his shoulders. It represents the inner power piercing out with all its strength: this happens with self-discovery and self-acceptance, when you are authentic with no disguise. The main body of the exhibition contains over 30 sculptures, celebrating women’s beauty in all its shapes and giving an intimate glimpse of a journey to self-discovery.

Metamorphosis is quite an interesting name. How/why did you choose this as the title of your exhibition?

The society we live in, I find, is under constant pressure, especially from social media. When we post pictures on Instagram or Facebook, we constantly need the approval of others… It becomes all about the appearance. I want to raise awareness around the risk of becoming superficial and forgetting about the essential, which for me is our inner beauty.

While beauty is something we all desire or aspire to, we should never become the victim of our own delusions. Metamorphosis was born when I was trying to remove a cast from the mold – she was stuck and I tried by all means to remove it until I finally understood that my artwork was sending me a message, it was a difficult birth. I left the cast in the mold and gave it a chance to be transformed to a beautiful sculpture with elegant horns and a golden face full of hope. The process I went through reminded me of a Metamorphosis, thus the name I used.

Metamorphosis is currently on show until the end of this month at 69 St Audley Road, Bryanston, Johannesburg.

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