We point and laugh at life’s taboos

Karin Miller's 'Verwoerd with vuvuzela'.

Karin Miller's 'Verwoerd with vuvuzela'.

Karin Miller's style of digital collage is immediately distinctive. Her artworks are a heterogeneous mix of graphic design elements, historic iconography, pop references and Eastern-inspired patterns.

Her work playfully explores all the dinner-table taboos – race, politics, religion, sex – using a humorous visual language created by the juxtaposition of iconography and appropriated images.

"I was like an exchange student from another planet when I was a youngster at school. I didn't really care for much except art – and Sugus sweets," she said.

She was besotted with their wrappers, which depicted, in beautiful illustrations, different people from around the world in traditional dress.
Her fascination with pattern and decoration and their link to ethnography steered Miller into a career in graphic design. She took a crash course in Photoshop through Unisa before diving into the bottomless world of digital image manipulation.

She is inspired by beauty and absurdity, an ironic duality. Through collage and the regrouping of images, she creates new layers of understanding and interpretation, which reminds us that no thing or idea is linear.

"I love the fact that I can take items out of context and place them wherever I want, because life is a collaboration of different points of view; and I get nervous when people start believing things only from one side, their side."

Also something of an artistic closet Catholic, Miller said: "Iconography appeals to me because, through a single image, you can describe anything from a 100-year freedom struggle to a religious movement. It ignites emotion and nostalgia, but I also like it because of the beauty in it."

This applies to her own work, which is both visually striking and conceptually intriguing. Miller has developed her own iconography, in which (mostly) local saints and sinners are purged of their historical context and gloriously reimagined: a pastoral Verwoerd cheerfully playing a vuvuzela, Adam and Eve in an African Garden of Eden, Venus reborn as a beautiful black mermaid, and Brangelina, the model pin-up couple amid their rainbow flock.

Humour ripples through her work and plays an important part in communicating the absurdities of history and, indeed, life in general. "I love to laugh," she said. "I shoot from the hip, then craft to perfection."

This seemingly contradictory style fits in perfectly with the apparently improbable worlds she depicts in her work. Miller has a book of her work published, Inspiration Book, and an extensive collection of her work is available from the Holden Manz collection in Franschhoek. She is working towards an exhibition in the latter part of the year.

For more, go to karinmiller.co.za. This article was adapted from an interview with the artist, which appeared on the creative showcase site Between 10 and 5 at 10and5.com

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