Robin Rhode Choreographs a Woman-to-Bird Metamorphosis

In a surreal series of photographic prints, the South Africa–born artist choreographs a fluid transition from woman to ostrich, whose farm-sourced feathers wield subtle spiritual power in the Western Cape.

Here, we ask an artist to frame the essential details behind one of their latest works.

Bio: Robin Rhode, 46, Berlin and Johannesburg (@robinrhodeofficial)

Title of work: The Ostrich Lady (2022). 

Where to see it: “African Dream Root” at Lehmann Maupin (501 West 24th St, New York) until Feb. 11.

Three words to describe it: Ancient, playful, elegant.

What was on your mind at the time: To visualize an effortless transition between the ostrich feathers attached to the bicycle and how it began to be absorbed onto the body of my female figure, allowing her to transform into the Ostrich Lady. Since the bicycle is a woman’s frame, I wanted to create this organic transformation between this now-animalistic object and my protagonist. The bicycle is a living entity in this work—an animal of stature being the ostrich—and our woman figure undergoes a metamorphosis to become an ostrich as well. This unique bird holds a spiritual and medicinal healing power in South Africa. Ostrich feathers were held in high regard in ancient Egypt as it was believed to represent purity and divine truth. A further essential role of this bird’s magical status is rooted in associations between ostriches and ideas of celestial rebirth or resurrection.

An interesting feature that’s not immediately noticeable: The ostrich feathers were sourced from a farm in the Western Cape and were so fresh we could smell the bird’s flesh and feces on it. With the help of a neighbor, we could drill holes into the bicycle frame and install the feathers into it. Some feathers were blown away by the wind, only for community members to pick it up and begin a kind of traditional dance in the street with the feather. That’s when I realized the subtle spiritual power the feather had and the power the artwork had as well.

How it reflects your practice as a whole: I’ve had a constant obsession with bicycles throughout my artistic practice. First, chalk drawing this object onto walls and attempt to ride the drawing. Then sculpting a life-size bicycle from green household soap, followed by another bicycle sculpture in chalk, and now the bicycle as a bird. There remains a continuum in my practice to relook at and reinvent existing ideas over a period of time as a means to echo the past but also signal the future through new concepts and materials.

One song that captures its essence: “Habits” by Lauren Duffus.

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