Kali van der Merwe

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Full Biography

Kali holds a Fine Art degree majoring in sculpture from the University of Cape Town. Post formal study, she sojourned in Berlin “the capital of re-invention” returning to South Africa as a documentary filmmaker. She combined social issue film making with creative social development and her collaborative documentaries won multiple best film and jury awards at local and international film festivals.

In a present transformation, living a rural existence in the Overberg, Kali combines creative photography, experimental filmmaking, soundscape design and taxidermy installation as her mediums of exploration. Her work transfigures external form in a search for the immaterial, traversing nuanced interconnections between death and life.

Kali sees herself as a visual advocate on behalf of wild, endangered plants, animals and insects whose future is intertwined with our own, encouraging people to become curious, observe and connect with a sense of wonder.

Artist Statement

I utilise a slow photographic process of long exposures with a continuously moving light source in creative documentation. I am in search of an essential yet elusive soul quality in everything I image. Worlds within worlds have opened up through the macro lens. My work is an exploration of life and death on physical and metaphysical levels. I never actively kill but rather await serendipitous “gifts”.

Beyond documentation, I fictionalise interspecies relationships, taking license to arrange my “tableau mort”. This storytelling is presented as “poetic ecstatic truth”. In this world I am playing at god in my attempts to re-animate inert life.

While three dimensional form features strongly in my work, an inner vision searches beyond form towards the void, where the universe pulses in and out of existence in ceaseless vibration.

I aspire to expand concepts of our context. The Hubble telescope has imaged more and more of the seemingly boundless universe. I have used these awe-inducing, re-orienting photographs to situate my flora and fauna theatre interplays, fluctuating between the polarities of the infinite and infinitesimal, with an eye on the indivisible whole.

At this historical juncture, the imbalances human destructive forces have wreaked are noticeable. I feel it is important to give image and agency to the natural world we are destroying. Beauty is a useful tool for inspiring value and emotional connection. If anyone viewing my creations can come away with a sense of marvel, mystery, deeper connection, greater affection or empathy for the creatures and plants we share our greater context with, then I feel I have made a tiny contribution to a hopefully expanding awareness of our mutual interconnectedness.

In essence we are all differing versions of spiralling DNA.


1983 – 86     Bachelor of Arts in Sculpture Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town.

1987            Advanced Diploma in Art (with distinction) focussed on Ceramic Sculpture – Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town.

1991             Courses in Lithography and Serigraphy at Kunsthaus Bethanien, Berlin.

  • “Brown” – first prize in the African Documentary section of the 15th African, Asian and Latin American Film Festival, Milan, Italy
  • “Brown” – Best South African Documentary at the 26th Durban International Film Festival
  • “Brown” – Best Documentary at the Apollo Film Festival in Victoria West, 2005, South Africa.
  • “Doing it!” – Audience prize at the Cinema delle Donne Film Festival, Turin, Italy;
  • “Doing it!” – Jury award at the Ismailia Film Festival, Egypt
  • “Doing it!” – Gold Stone award in from the National Television and Video Association South Africa (NTVA).
  • “Iduma Elingopiyo, The Wound that does not Bleed” – competing with feature films, the documentary came second in the Best Foreign Film category at the AdriaticoCinema Festival, Italy.
  • Awarded the Mc Iver Women’s Bursary
  • Awarded the Irma Stern Scholarship


 2018 AfTeR LiFe – Solo show in Kings Map Room, Iziko South African Museum, Cape Town

2017 B-r-o-k-e  W-h-o-l-e, the labor-oratory of Dr Kali – Solo show photographic, sculptural, video installation – Grande Provence Gallery, Franschoek , Western Cape

2016 FABULA NEX – Solo show photographic, sculptural and installation – Rossouw Modern Hermanus, Western Cape    

2015 beyond Beyond, infinite and infinitesimal – photographic exhibition and installation and experimental video – Cameraland Cape Town, curated by Jackie Ruth Murray.

2014 Coniunctio – Solo show – Youngblood Gallery, Cape Town – as part of the Month of Photography Film and Video 6

Group show – Skullduggery – The Studio Kalk Bay cape Town

2013 Group show – Botanical – Group Exhibition – Print Gallery Woodstock, Cape Town

2012 Dark Light, images of re-awakening – Solo show Cape Town Castle as part of the 5th Cape Town Month of Photography

2011 Group show – AUTUMN MMXI, group show at MUSEUM Photographic Art Gallery, Woodstock.

2010 Guest Artist at Baardskeerdersbos Art Route exhibiting photographic art works.

2009 out of the blue – an exploration of sensual feminine energies photographed underwater – exhibited at Misael Space, Cape Town.

2008 Isisombulolo – Commissioned to document the work of the HIV/AIDS care, prevention and treatment project.

2007 Re:Search – documentary photographs commisioned for SATVI – South African TB Vaccine Initiative, shown at the CTICC – Cape Town International Convention Centre. On permanent exhibition at University of Cape Town’s Medical School Campus

2006 Face the People – portraits, stories and documentary photographs honouring 20 community health workers from various communities all across greater Cape Town was shown at Guga S’Thebe Langa, Lookout Hill Khayelitsha, UWC Library Belleville and Community House Salt River. The project was a commission from the Department of Health and Cape Metro District Health Services.

2005 Captive – shown at the Castle of Good Hope Cape Town as part of the Month of Photography

2004 out of time – video installation shown at the Brett Kebble Art Awards.

Uhambo, Pieces of a Dream – a multi-media installation created for the Mothertongue Collective shown at the main festival in Grahamstown and at the Intimate Theatre, Hiddingh Hall Campus UCT, Cape Town.

2003 digitalove – video installation shown at the Brett Kebble Art Awards.

2002 ssense, erotic reality journey – shown at the Castle of Good Hope as part of the Month of Photography.