Contemporary art, with it’s postmodern penchant for theory-riddled subtext and quirky aesthetics, doesn’t often fall under the category of “feel good” entertainment. That’s not a degradation, it’s a generalization by someone who looks at a lot of contemporary art. And nobody ever said that the role of art is solely to make the viewer feel good. However, when one comes across a series of work that is both visually and intellectually compelling, as well as inspiring, one takes notice. Perhaps one (that would be me) is even seeking it out on a subconscious level. Humans and their pesky yearning to be inspired. We seek this kind of joy and inspiration in other forms of art and entertainment as well, including: film, literature and sports. And in the case of sporting events, I can think of no better example of people coming together from around the world to be inspired and compelled than the FIFA (Soccer) World Cup. Sure, the Olympics draws upon that enthusiasm and serves up its share of inspiration every four years as well, but not like the World Cup. These fans are dedicated; they know the game, they follow the teams and players 365 days a year, every year. They play the game themselves.
As the 2010 World Cup kicks off its first full week in South Africa, the culmination of joy and inspiration seems even more heightened in comparison to previous years. Its host country is a historical nerve center for racial strife, social tension and high crime, with a rapidly increasing rate of disease, including HIV/AIDS. It is also a “model of racial reconciliation following decades of apartheid, with a burgeoning black middle class” (source). And, as often happens when a country finds itself climbing out of the trenches of tragedy, an event such as the World Cup—or even a simple pickup game of soccer—acts as a natural binding agent, suffusing hope far beyond the reach of sports enthusiasm. I should note that, certainly, not everyone takes such an optimistic view of the World Cup in South Africa, and of course my view is that of an outsider in any case; an observation more than an opinion. But by in large, the World Cup and the game of soccer (er, football) are inspiring a nation and a world at the moment.
But what if the grandiose spectacle of the World Cup is removed from the sport? Will a nation—a continent—still be inspired by the game? In a new solo exhibition at Joao Ferreira Gallery in Cape Town, South Africa, Belgian photographer Jessica Hilltout presents a series of work entitled Amen, capturing images of rural football players from all over Africa. Equally inspiring to the aforementioned global match, the matches played by the rural footballers offer none of the World Cup’s fanfare. Their equipment is makeshift, their pitches (fields) are crude. There are no Nike logos or Gatorade sponsorships. But the essence of joy—of hard work, inspiration and coming together around a game—translates the same. As the artist says, “Amen, above all else, captures the strength of the human spirit.”
Born in Belgium, Jessica Hilltout has had a nomadic that has taken her across Europe, Asia and Africa. She earned her BA in Photography at Blackpool College of Art, UK. Her work has been exhibited internationally, including at The National Portrait Gallery, London and Aliceday Gallery, Brussels.