A Bronze Affair: An interview with propmaker Annek...

A Bronze Affair: An interview with propmaker Anneke Bester

By: Ana Tavares

Anneke Bester’s striking bronze sculptures hit the Algarve in autumn of 2018

Anneke Bester’s life is a braid that has been carefully entwined over the years — things come and go, and together they make something extraordinary. The adjective doesn’t come from the artist, but the metaphor does. This is how 42-year-old Anneke explains how sculpting, theatre, cinema and even lighting naturally followed one another into her career, intermingling seamlessly and always generating something new. The result — which is not at all final, because in her art everything is constantly evolving — was found at ArtCatto Gallery, in Loulé, until December 22, 2018, as part of a collective exhibition, although some of the sculptor’s work remained in the South for longer.

Anneke Bester

Born in South Africa in 1976, Anneke comes from an artistic family, who influenced her greatly. At 16, she enrolled at Pro Arte Alphen Park secondary school, in Pretoria, South Africa. After graduating she wanted to study fine arts, but faced lengthy discussions with her father, who wanted her to follow a more financially stable path. After some research, Anneke found a theatre course to satisfy both needs: “It had all the creative elements, yet gave me the ability to make a living,” she says. The choice was “wise”, but the timing was not: as soon as Anneke graduated, a new South-African government took power and closed all state theatres.

But the administration that shut down theatres also opened casinos. Gambling became legal in South Africa and Anneke, along many other theatre prop artists, started collaborating with casinos and hotels. Most of her work involved themed decoration for these spaces as well as 3D signs. “From there I just slipped into TV. I used to do a lot of scenery and props for TV. Then I went to New Zealand, where I got into the film industry.”

The propmaker’s résumé includes world-renowned films such as The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), The Hobbit trilogy (2012-2014) and Star Trek Beyond (2016).

“Working on something like movies is great because you cannot sit around and wait for inspiration to hit you on head. It’s almost inspiration on demand”

Anneke Bester

Muses aside, working in films helped her master new techniques and materials, different from the usual fibreglass she used in commercial projects. “Some of the stuff we did on The Hobbit was fascinating because everything was made to scale. That’s an extremely important skill for a sculptor, always making sure everything is in proportion,” she explains.

As usual for Anneke, life took another twist before venturing into a cinematic career. After her first movie, she spent two years in Dubai, working in museums. It was there she first worked with bronze, her current medium of choice, after receiving a commission for eight life-sized falcons in 2007 for one of the world’s largest shopping centres. The task had its obstacles but it opened another window of opportunity for the artist: it was through this work she met the New Zealand foundry company she still works with today, launching a long relationship with bronze.

Anneke has continued to work with this alloy ever since. Every year she has released a collection of sculptures celebrating the human or animal form. Inspired by her many travels and the images she sees, the sculptor always has an idea of what she will portray, slightly exaggerating the figure’s line to convey fluid movement.She is completely absorbed in her work, which she combines with art consultancy for Neolight Global, a lighting design company, because, in her own words, she becomes a hermit.

At time of press she was in her home in Dubai, where Anneke has inevitably been influenced by the country’s culture. This had already happened in Africa, where she grew up and from where her preference for slight and tall sculptures comes, as well as the fluidity and drapery of marble sculptures from the Roman period, which she saw for the first time in a museum in Turkey. “And then of course, coming to Dubai completely changed it again for me in terms of what’s acceptable and what isn’t, what is considered decent. Even in art, trying to find that point where you can speak freely in a visual form, but without offending people, is the ultimate place to be.”

This search for harmony is evident in the eight sculptures that was on display at ArtCatto. There was Secretive, with a covered face yet whose body emanates freedom; Succumb, a figure with a fabric-covered, downcast head, which Anneke says many consider obscure but that in her head depicts the way we all fall down sometimes; and Extravagance, which is projected from a wall and, according to the artist, could have some lighting elements on the inside.

Can we expect illuminated pieces in the future? “We’ll see it soon,” she says. And we will be waiting.

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