A Series of Paintings
The Magic Lantern Project has added value to my year, while completing a process-based Post-Graduate diploma at the CVA, in Pietermaritzburg. Investigating Colonial South Africa through the collection of lantern slides from South Africa House in the Netherlands and relating them to my personal history has been a stimulating and insightful experience.
Monuments, historical buildings and statues bear testament to a particular context. My immediate reaction to some of these landmark buildings in the collection of slides was of nostalgia, of remembering, of connection and belonging. However, the horrible realisation that most of the places that I identify with are immersed in a history fraught with social inequality and injustice has made me question my own judgement and accountability in the apartheid era. While these semi-autobiographical paintings attempt to capture the mood and grandeur of these landmark sites, I nevertheless offer the viewer an alternative vision through the recontextualization of various images in the collection.
Painting 1. The Union Buildings
Medium: Oil Painting
Size: 90 cm x 60 cm
Growing up in Pretoria, the formidable Union Buildings were the backdrop to my childhood; the beautiful gardens my playground. This memory, however, is now tinged with discomfort at the recognition of my privileged, white upbringing. Nevertheless, the Union Buildings carry with them enormous cultural, historical and political significance. Prior to 1994 it was considered the seat of apartheid and when Nelson Mandela was inaugurated in 1994 the Union Buildings were the setting to this auspicious occasion. It is the incongruence between what the Union Buildings represented during apartheid and what the Union Buildings represent today which I explore in this painting.
By placing The Pondoland Man smoking a Pipe (Series Ba) on the roof of the Union Buildings I subvert the image of the Union Buildings as the all-encompassing seat of Apartheid. Has the Union Buildings simply become a lookout point for the sage-like figure of the Pondoland Man smoking his pipe or alternatively, could this small figure be surveying his kingdom. I leave the viewer to decide.
Painting 2: First day of School – “Monkey say - monkey do.”
“Monkey say – Monkey do”
Medium: Oil Painting
Size : 50 cm x 45 cm
In the second painting, I continue to reflect on my own childhood experiences by placing myself within the context of another image from the archive. Using The Statue of a Seated Paul Kruger (Series Aa), as my point of departure, I reflect on the pedagogical and epistemic relationships between parent and child, teacher and pupil. With such ease, children are indoctrinated from an early age to “acceptable” ways of thinking and behaving. I position myself as a little girl, on my first day in a whites-only school, listening attentively and obediently to a lecture by Paul Kruger, the iconic figure of Afrikanerdom and oppressor of other races. Irony and pathos underpin this artwork.
Painting 3. Carnival Time
Medium: Oil Painting
Size: 75 cm x 55 cm
The Voortrekker Monument was built to commemorate the men and women of ‘The Great Trek’ in 1835; arguably the forbearers of Afrikanerdom. The building looms, ominously, on a hilltop in Pretoria and was a favourite destination for my family on our Sunday afternoon drives. As a child, I was always in awe of the austerity, and the significance of this monument. However, as an adult, I become aware of the underlying meanings attached to a monument which pays tribute to the colonisation of others.
As such, the painting illustrates an opposing narrative, reconceptualising the significance of the Voortrekker monument (Series E). Ox-wagons no longer surround the perimeter of the building, instead, ‘rickshaw boys’ and their carts, have positioned themselves as keepers of a new order (Rickshaw Boys – Series Ba). This work questions the notion of the western gaze insofar as the ‘rickshaw boys’, the ‘exotic other’, have been placed in positions of power, guarding the entrance to the monument. Their compatriots, to the lower right corner, are characterised by an element of nonchalant indifference. Consequently, the carnival atmosphere overshadows the seriousness of the moment and suggests hope, as well as freedom, from the restraints of the past.
By inserting an image of myself into the painting, I explore the innocence of childhood and the ease at which we surrender to the guidance of our elders, be they parents or leaders of our nation. Conscious of my past lack of awareness, I reflect here on my own history and a history that has failed so many.
Painting 4. Hendrik and the Black Baby
Hendrik and the Black Baby
Medium: Oil Painting
Farce and satire characterise the last painting in this series. In depicting Hendrik Verwoerd, “the architect of apartheid”, as a fatherly figure, carrying a baby on his back aims to conjure a dissonance in the mind of the viewer. I chose Verwoerd as the racial and patriarchal representative of the apartheid-era. He was born in the Netherlands in 1901 and this connection did not go unnoticed by me as I began to imagine Verwoerd and his family attending a similar Magic Lantern Show in Antwerp. By re-contextualizing the image of the Tribal Woman (Series C), replacing the mother with Verwoerd, I strap the baby onto him as a symbolic burden of the consequences of a tyrannical era.
Painting 5: Paddling Pool – whites only
Paddling Pools – whites only
Medium – Oil Painting
Size: 85 cm x 70 cm
This painting further explores my discomfort at being a child of the apartheid era. Although I situate myself as an innocent child of the 1960’s, oblivious to the politics surrounding me, I benefit from the outcomes of Apartheid in my whites only paddling pool at the Durban beachfront. My mother, a towering presence hovers above me, and her shadow casts a darkness over me. In the distance, alienated from the rest of us, my nanny and a Rickshaw man dressed-up as the exotic other, are depicted as existing in a world of their own.
Inspired by images present in the Magic Lantern Collection, I explore notions of cultural assimilation. Via circular format I reference Delftware crockery, made popular in the Netherlands in the 17th and 18th centuries. Somewhat ironically, this pattern and style reflects the influence of Chinese porcelain production. Using iconic images of South Africa that merge in and out of focus, I evoke notions of the blurring of cultures among people and place.
Size: 21 cm diameter