With life’s terrible experiences, there is the potential for something beautiful to come out of it. This sad yet wonderful story is a true reflection of Ubuntu and forgiveness. Sometimes a horrible experience can bring about a side in us that will either destroy us as victims of these experiences. Or bring about forgiveness that will inspire even the perpetrators to be better people in society. 

This is the story of a young woman whose inner strength pulled her out of what could have been a life sentence. She survived a home invasion that almost took away her freedom if she had allowed it. Jess chose LOVE instead and from that, a blossoming career became full-bloomed flowers. Her story has allowed South Africa to smell the sweet smell of forgiveness and spread love through her art. She decided to tell her story in her own words.

My story is a thread woven into a bigger canvas. 

It is a uniquely South African surface, 

featuring a landscape that is 

as literal as the sacred mountains and valleys

as it is abstractly configured 

by millions of thinking minds and acting bodies.

The landscape is flooded with the shadowy inks

that permeate and traverse borders 

between ourselves and others. 

But there are also the blunt gestures 

that have violently circumscribed the social landscape 

into foul and muddy blocs of colour.

There’s a perpetual attempt to whitewash 

these ugly and obtuse moments

layer upon layer of opaque smears 

that never quite conceal the traumas and passions 

lurking beneath.

In 2006 I was shot in a house robbery and left permanently paralysed from the waist down. I was already a painter. Yet my career as an artist began from the moment my young attackers leapt from the cover of flower bushes. Spectrally thin, ragged figures holding rusted guns and tearing at my body. In that infinite moment, all I could see, feel, was a profound sense of hurt glinting in dark, pitiless eyes.

Their loss has become mine

I see the carelessness with which they have been abandoned to the edges of our frayed landscape. Now being mirrored. In my physical pain. The struggle to move. The sense of my body dispossessed of its language, agency and identity.

But painting is also an act of empathy for my brothers in darkness

The decision to paint feels essential. It is one area where I can regain a delicacy and a softness against the static shock of my paralysis. But painting is also an act of empathy for my brothers in darkness. On fresh surfaces, our tangled threads disclose a shared moment of pain, while they are reinvested with gestures of love.

My latest body of work, Wisteria, is a proverbial story of how this canvas comes to be. The paintings portray spaces of exclusion. Suburban gardens where young women, such as myself, are safe to play.

‘Wisteria’ Exhibit, Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, 2017

But my own status as ”disabled” thrusts me to the outside of this fluorescent place. Looking into that world of lithe potency and anxious performativity I once inhabited.

Now I sit quietly, peering through the trellises. Beauty. My brush stumbles on the surface. A movement that enacts the darkly complex spaces we inhabit. While it contains the universal wish for succour from those never fully present glimpses of grace.

‘Wisteria’

I paused and asked her, “What is your favourite quote or mantra? She answered, “To be an artist you have to give up everything, including the desire to be a good artist.” A quotation by Jasper Johns. That made me understand that her love for her art runs deep. It is not just about a brushstroke of colour. It is her expression of love to South Africa, her home, even though at some point it showed her no mercy. 

We have a very high crime rate and in this Women’s Month, Jess’s story is a story of many women. The difference is that she is able to tell her story her way and the ending is a happy one. She is doing something she loves and she survived that attack on her life. As we navigate as women in our everyday lives we need to look deep in ourselves and decide how we want our stories to end. 

Jess is living proof that other people’s bad choices shouldn’t change our beautiful paths

The stories that are told about women are sometimes told by others as they have been killed due to crime or gender-based violence. Or, sometimes, we silently die inside because we are depressed or too scared to speak up. Jess is living proof that other people’s bad choices shouldn’t change our beautiful paths. If you ask me, Jessica Webster is an inspiration to all of us. 

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GOOD THOUGHTS • GOOD WORDS • GOOD DEEDS