Diane Victor is an artist of uncompromising directness but with a strange quietness in her nature who tackles pressing issues - personal and social violence to racial anxiety, corruption, gender inequality, economic exploitation and social commentary - in the new contemporary South African landscape post-apartheid. In 1986, she graduated with a BA Fine Arts Degree from the University of the Witwatersrand. She grew up as an only child on a small farm in Midrand and used drawing as a means to express herself. “I’m not a words person at all, I have a general mistrust for words and I find that I cannot use them in the same way I can use mark or line,” Victor explains. In 1988, Victor became the youngest recipient of the prestigious Volkskas Atelier Award (now known as the Absa L'Atelier Award) which allowed her to experience the European art scene in France, England and Germany. The historical art and architecture had a huge visual impact on her art. But Victor always chose to stick with the imagery she knows and feels, that of the South African society.
Victor is known for her provocative images which tends to get interpreted in the wrong way or evoke anger in the viewer. But Victor states that she wants her works to entice people out of their comfort zones and make them think about the things that upset them “She does not water down taboo content under ‘safe’ visual schemata fro the sake of being more palatable or marketable,” writes Catherine Green, a writer for Art South Africa. Diane views her work as a means to deal with her own personal emotions about things that have angered her or upset her. Victor's images are densely layered with meaning and metaphor with ironic and satirical undertones. She uses biblical and mythical references which evokes the grand narrative traditions of the past and is copiously intertextual with various references to art history. She describes this process as the images in her memory would literary “drain out” of her hand as she creates her works. Looking beyond the intense emotive qualities of Victor's work, what remains a constant is the capacity of her style. Whether rendering her subjects in charcoal, or undertaking conceptually challenging embossings, Victor shows an accomplished skill and a meticulous sense for detail. She researches her ideas thoroughly and is able to communicate and express the emotional value of her works.
Despite the criticism she has received over her career, she has become a renowned South African artist and printmaker. Her works have been used in high school curriculums and she has won numerous awards. She has exhibited widely within South Africa and overseas and her work can be seen in leading South African corporate, state and private collections as well as in international collections including the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Victor and her work is both paradox and dichotomy. One senses that she would be happy never to see or hear humans again and yet she is a dedicated university lecturer, teaching drawing and printmaking, at various South African institutions including the University of Pretoria, Tshwane University of Technology, Open Window Academy, the University of the Witwatersrand, Rhodes University and the University of Johannesburg. There is no doubting the immeasurable impact of her style and her personality on her students. Victor says teaching allows her to experience different headspaces from an era that is not her own.
Text: Marilyn de Freitas