Jane Alexander was born in Johannesburg in 1959. She attended the University of the Witwatersrand where she obtained a Bachelor and a Masters in Fine Arts in 1982 and 1988. While she was doing her Masters, Alexander produced what may possibly be her most famous piece of art, The Butcher Boys.
Fig 1: The Butcher Boys 1985/86
The Butcher Boys is composed of three life-size sculptures of eerily deformed men with animal horns sitting in a bench as if contemplating (Fig 1). In this work, the artist accomplishes to produce a sentiment of discomfort and repugnance that she links with the human bestiality in violence.
Although she was not active in the resistance movement, Alexander’s work has always been influenced by the political and social character of South Africa. She explains, “… my themes are drawn from the relationship of individuals to hierarchies and the presence of aggression, violence, victimisation, power and subservience, and from the paradoxical relationships of these conditions to each other. The content I work with is derived from a combination of observation, media information and the experience.”
The Butcher Boys has received widespread recognition. It is probably the most popular contemporary piece in the collection of the South African National Gallery, and it was chosen by Jean Clair for his show 'Identita e Alterita' ('Identity and Alterity') in the Palazzo Grassi at the 1995 Venice Biennale.
"Bom Boy" 1998
In the years of change, a new series of Alexander’s work began, entitled 'Integration Programme', in which less fearsome but alienated-seeming figures, often hooded, which were presented in disturbing tableaux. A second important body of work is Alexander's photomontages, in which her sculptures take on a history of their own as the frequent subject of her compositions.
The "Bom Boys" and "Lucky Girls" are Alexander's interpretations of the street children she works with on Long Street, Cape Town. Departing from her earlier practice, all the figures in this group are cast in fibreglass from a single mould, with animal masks covering some of their heads.
Alexander is currently senior lecturer in sculpture, photography and drawing at the Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town.