Humanity, animality and nonsense in Wilma Cruise's etchings

South African sculptor and visual artist Wilma Cruise investigates verbal and nonverbal communication in her nonsense-inspired creations.

Inspired by Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, South African artist Wilma Cruise explores the philosophical questions on sentience and speech in her exhibition of etchings and sculptures Advice from a Caterpillar

"I am very interested in what I call ‘the space between'," says Cruise, "the gap between interacting perceiving beings. At the moment [between humans] verbal communication fills the gap, with animals it is a non-verbal communication."

In Carroll's book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Alice is asked by a caterpillar (while he smokes his hookah pipe) "Who are you?", a question she struggles to answer.

"'Who are you?' — that is the ultimate philosophic notion," says Cruise. "Cogito ergo sum, which has sort of informed human thinking about the animals: I think therefore I am human, and anyone who does not have speech is not human."

Cruise's art depicts the unarticulated communication between beings: two baboons sit playing chess and an "all knowing pig" smiles at the viewer. But Cruise says she is not imposing human emotions on her subjects.

"It's just their common humanity — or perhaps our common animality — that I look at."

The exhibition Advice from a Caterpillar, which is currently on display at the new David Krut Projects space in the AVA Gallery Cape Town, is the fifth in a sequence of Alice inspired shows. The final show in the series, Cruise explains, will be entitled The Eight Square, referring to the final row of chess squares on the board.

"If you reach the eighth square in chess you must have won!"