Anthropoides Paradiseus by Isabelle Evertse
In Anthropoides Paradiseus the fraught nature of the medium of photography and its associations with documentation and truth-telling are intertwined with the equally difficult search for personal, cultural and political histories.
The title comes from the scientific name for the blue crane, the national bird of Evertse’s native South Africa. In the artist’s own words, the book is a “reflection on roots, points of origin, and migration.
”The impetus for the work was the birth of the artist’s first child, which left her seeking clues to her own past as she faced the new experience of motherhood.
With parenthood come the inevitable questions of who are we? what is our past? who were our parents? Evertse interweaves family photographs, art historical references, and graphic illustrations in a compelling collection of images that is both quiet and unsettling.
Photography, as our culture’s favored purveyor of the past, promises much but ultimately delivers little, serving as an incoherent guide to our longing for concretized memory and, more specifically in this case, to the challenges of motherhood. Rather than encountering a rational, linear narrative of the artist’s personal history, we are instead plunged into the existential depths of our collective longing for a connection to our past and ancestral roots. Evertse denies us the easy pleasure or satisfaction of the popular genealogical search or DNA test—i.e., learning that an individual is 65% this, 35% that—and instead explores the roots of that desire for origins and its broader cultural significance.