ghostly

390 dove handLesley’s art changed under the influence of the Radhasoami philosophy. It took on a slightly surreal and at the same time pietistic edge, as she struggled to represent the inner world promised by the Radhasoami faith in the only terms she knew – by the recombinant depiction of the objects and patterns she recognized in the world around her, but subsumed and re-interpreted in terms of the new faith.

The painting of the dove is essentially a visual pun, and the combination of significations does not go especially deep – the dove stands for peace; the flowers, everlastings, stand for the eternal; the hands, based on those of Charan Singh in the Namaste greeting, stand for divine union – the chiasm of the left and right accomplished in and by the loving hands of the master. It is not a depiction, then, of the inner cosmos of the Radhasoami teachings, where innumerable Hansas (divine swans) live in refulgent galaxies, partaking of the Ambrosia of the Gods, but an emblem of a certain understanding.

391 lamasegu oilIn this portrait of Lamasegu, a Zulu woman who had somehow found herself in the Lowveld, Lesley has again resorted to depiction of real things in order to show the world beyond the real. Planets and stars, a hint of moon and the spiral core of a sea-shell hover in an ambiguous sky. The woman’s face looks upward, as though towards heaven, while she contemplates the winding gyres of the impossibly hovering shell. The waves of the inner ocean lap over the face, shell and stars alike, in ghostly streaks.

Lamasegu had come to work for Lesley at the time that Anton had left. Their relationship was complex – undoubtedly an employee, she was nevertheless also something of a friend, as labour relations under Lesley were different from those in the surrounding region. Her gratitude to Lesley was unbounded, for her boss treated her as a human being, paid her better than other local workers, passed on clothes, improved her living conditions and brought back presents from overseas.

392 lamasegu photoShe once enquired what it was that Lesley did when she meditated, and Lesley had explained to her as best as their shared language, a simplified form of Afrikaans, would allow. Lamasegu tried out whatever Lesley had explained, and reported that daardie man met die doek had appeared to her and spoken kindly. In time she too took on the Radhasoami faith, combining it with her version of Christianity, and journeyed to India with Lesley to meet the Living Jesus.

Their relationship blurred between that of a mistress and her servant and that of two satsangi sisters, co-religionists who drank from the same stream. The trope hints at patronization, an unequal wage-relation that was covered over by an unequal friendship, but the evidence suggests otherwise. While Lesley kept no paintings of or portraits of her sister Dorothy, she painted and kept several portraits of Lamasegu, and there is in the album a picture of her which shows, I think, a great tenderness.

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