Helena Hugo has been a full-time artist since graduating from the University of Pretoria in 1996, majoring in painting. She specializes in detailed pastel portraits, mostly of South African and migrant hand labourers, but her media also include drawings in charcoal, pencil and oil as well as fibre arts. Apart from “work” as a subject matter she also investigates our universal human condition and the cycle of birth, death and resurrection in humans and in nature
She has exhibited extensively locally and abroad. Artworks have been bought by corporate collectors like Standard Chartered Bank, London, The University of Johannesburg, The Johannesburg Eye Hospital, Vulisango Holdings, The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, Ukwazi Mining Industry Consultants, UNISA, William Humphreys Art Gallery, Absa Bank, the National Museum of China, The Pretoria Art Museum as well as private collectors around the world.
She has been a finalist in most of the major national and some international art competitions, including the BP portrait award in 2005. In 2011 she was chosen to be the ABSA KKNK’s festival artist and in 2012 she received the Bettie Cilliers-Barnard Award for painting.
Women are traditionally viewed as protectors of children and caregivers to those weaker than themselves. In Greek Mythology, Gaia has the more portentous role of personifying earth itself, the giver of all life.
In these portraits, seemingly soft and gentle “woman” is subtly portrayed as able protector of self, other women and even of man – not just the boy child, but the grown man, having in her the power to aid him emotionally, but also physically if needed. She has self-reliance and wisdom, not only intuitive spiritual wisdom, but also intellect and logic.
Much has been debated and advocated recently regarding the protection
of women in our society – protection by males. The danger here is that she
is forced to repeat her role of dependence on man. This may contain a
shadow of the danger of a renewed cycle of abuse and the recurring need
for protection. Often, the good man feels guilty when he is unable to
constantly provide availability and protection and on the contrary, she is
again stamped on the unconscious mind of the evil man as a vulnerable
The artist aims to present gentle women as capable and willing to be an
independent self-protectress, having the ability of even going so far as to
show violence in the case of a thread to her own life or those of her loved
ones – be it children, nature or man. The iris is a strong feminine metaphor.
Used often during the Art Nouveau period, the age in which the femme
fatale abounded, it is also associated with the goddess Iris in Greek
mythology and was planted on the graves of women as an aid to guide
them safely to heaven. It is a reminder of her strength and perhaps even of
the danger lurking behind her attractiveness.