Morné Visagie (b. 1989) is a South African artist, printmaker and curator who lives and works between Cape Town and Amsterdam.

Morné Visagie is a South African artist, printmaker and curator who lives and works in Cape Town. Visagie is a PhD candidate at the European Graduate School, starting 2024.

Drawing on personal recollections and collective histories, my practice follows a sustained meditation on the sea as a physical and psychological landscape. Memories of my childhood on Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, are interwoven with historical facts, narratives borrowed from literature and film, and images from art and life. The sea – changeable, inconstant – reveals itself evocative not only of promise and peril but of sensuality and desire. It offers as imperfect parallel the image of the swimming pool and its attendant changing room, evoking a history of the queer body in art and literature. My practice finds expression in abstracted interpretations of these motifs, where colour and materiality are primary.

In 2010, I visited Robben Island for the first time since I had left my family home there fifteen years before, returning to the places I remembered from my childhood spent on the Island. Arriving at the communal swimming pool, I discovered a flock of dead seagulls floating in the water. The pool, left unkept, mimicked the dark green-blue sea on the other side of the wall. I was twenty years old. Soon after I visited, I read an account of two men, Rijkaart Jacobs and Claas Blank, who were drowned off the Island’s coast in the early eighteenth century. They were sentenced to death on charges of having a homosexual relationship, though the term ‘homosexual’ did not yet exist.

The drowned men and dead seagulls, the familiar rocking of the boat, my return to that place – these together became a catalyst to reconnect with the Island, with my childhood and identity, the swimming pool, sea, land, and loss. The Island revealed itself not only as a site of national significance but one charged with personal resonance, persisting in my memory as darkly dreamlike. The first years of my life (1989–1995) were spent on Robben Island, where my father worked as a warder under the Apartheid government. While it was safe for children to wander freely, a suburban idyll of sorts, it was a prison to many of its residents. Apartheid South Africa, however, was coming undone. The year 1994, with South Africa’s first democratic elections, was the start of new beginnings: for the warders and their families who lived on the Island; and for the many political prisoners who had been exiled there.

Unlike the drowned lovers, Jacobs and Blank, I live as a self-recognised gay man in a constitutionally free society, belonging to the first generation of the South African LGBTQI+ community that cannot be discriminated against by law. This reassurance, however, is bitter-sweet. Freedom is not a given but a slow negotiation. Reflecting on literature, film and art, I have found few happy endings for queer communities to aspire to. More often than not, those works I have encountered conclude under the shadow of discrimination, exile, illness, death and existential heartbreak. The need and desire for companionship, acceptance and happiness are palpably apparent. However, these wants are seldom satisfied. One need only read the writings of Edmund White, Allan Hollinghurst and Jean Genet to see this pattern of unfulfilled need. Pursuing such accounts of illusory happiness, I have traced a visual expression of queer imaginings of the sea and the swimming pool, which extends to include bathhouses and locker rooms (so often settings in gay literature and film). These spaces allude to desire, attraction and eroticism, invoking nude male bodies meeting behind closed doors, hidden by curtains or left unseen in steam-filled rooms, temporarily sheltered from darker social realities.

Solo Exhibitions:

2024 Fovntain II (Violet, Antwerp, BE)
2023 A Sinless Season (Everard Read Gallery, Cape Town, SA)
2019 The Last Colour to Fade (WITW/KRONE Gallery, Tulbagh, SA)
2018 Die Bloue Wis (Nuweland Gallery, Oosterzee-Buren, NL)
2018 Fovntain (Smith Gallery, Cape Town, SA)
2016 There are Gold Flecks in the Lapis (What If The World Gallery, Cape Town, SA)
2015 The Line of Beauty (What If The World Gallery, Cape Town, SA)
2014 Derek Jarman, 1994 (Brundyn+ Gallery, Cape Town, SA)
2013 Far from the sea, perhaps... (What If The World Gallery, Cape Town, SA)
2011 Tryst (Michaelis Galleries, Cape Town, SA)

Group Exhibitions & Art Fairs:

2023 Zsonamaco Sur Artfair (Nuweland Gallery, Mexico City, CDMX)
2022 AKAA Fair Paris (Nuweland Gallery, Paris, FR)
2021 AKAA Fair Paris (Nuweland Gallery, Paris, FR)
2021 1:54 London (Nuweland Gallery, London, UK)
2021 BIG ART (Nuweland Gallery, Amsterdam, NL)
2021 Volta Basel (Nuweland Gallery, Basel, Switzerland)
2021 Art Rotterdam (Nuweland Gallery, Rotterdam, NL)
2021 1:54 New York (Nuweland Gallery, Online)
2020 PEEP SHOW (HOICK, Online)
2020 AKAA Fair Paris (Nuweland Gallery, Online)
2020 BIG ART (Nuweland Gallery, Amsterdam, NL)
2020 1:54 New York (Nuweland Gallery, Online)
2020 Art Rotterdam (Nuweland Gallery, Rotterdam, NL)
2019 AKAA Fair Paris (Nuweland Gallery, Paris, FR)
2019 Re-Imagined Realities (Open24hrs, Cape Town, SA)
2016 A New Wave (Southern Guild, Cape Town, SA)
2015 Rhinos Are Coming (Michaelis Galleries, Cape Town, SA)
2015 Concerted Efforts (West Space, Melbourne, AUS)
2013 Positive Tension (What If The World Gallery, Cape Town, SA)
2012 Context (Michaelis Galleries, Cape Town, SA)
2012 Outside the Lines: An Exploration of Abstract Materiality (What If The World Gallery, Cape Town, SA)