Pam Guhrs-Carr was born in Malawi and raised in Zambia in one of Africa’s prolific wildlife areas, the Luangwa valley where her father Norman Carr was Game Warden and later a well known conservationist. After obtaining a Fine Art degree from WITS University in Johannesburg she returned to the Luangwa Valley in Zambia with her husband where she taught and raised her two daughters in the bush and later read a Masters in Fine art, anthropology and rock art at WITS University. Living in Luangwa’s remote wilderness environment has informed her work on multiple levels as she draws on its history, indigenous cultures and biodiversity. She was deeply immersed into the Kunda subsistence way of life which has become part of her lived experience and has shaped her identity, so much so that her two daughters are both initiated as Kunda.
Her work challenges hackneyed perceptions of animals in Africa. From western eyes that visit zoos and Game Reserves to indigenous perceptions of animals as intrinsically linked to ancestors, she revisions the metaphors that bind humans and animals.
Some of the black and white tar images are inspired by her research of the rock paintings of eastern Zambia and their relation to contemporary matrilineal Zambian women’s initiation practices.
She has exhibited in Zambia, Botswana, Kenya, South Africa, USA and London. Her work is represented in museums and collections internationally and has been auctioned by Christies in London.
Pam's painting practice involved becoming subjectively immersed in the language of pictograms which formed a link between rock art in eastern Zambia and women’s initiation images; ciphers, signs and symbols at the core of Kunda thought. She absorbed concepts and images, repeating them again and again almost in mantra mode creating a lexicon.. By learning these images through repetition she aims not to reproduce or to document them but to try to understand them. Through the process of repetition she learns, and this becomes part of her in the same way as one would internalise a piece of music, in a mode of reworking these images with closed eyes, in a meditative state, in a manner described by Berggruen, where the inner and outer world, the observer and the thing are merged.
Using Indian ink and a large brush these images are drawn repeatedly with a tutored hand and then later with eyes closed, until the figure becomes a cipher. Closing the eyes releases the unconscious gesture or the underlying emotive aspects of the form. The replication of painting and repainting simplifies the sign in a Zen-like way until it is personalised. There is an intensity of labour necessary to capture this apparent spontaneity. There is here an attempt to grasp on a level of feeling rather than visual superficiality. These gestural images resembling a type of calligraphy are then enlarged onto a board in a manner related to western technical drawing, by a series of grids. The resulting drawings are completed in tar with a large brush.