Visual Culture and Public Memory in a Democratic South Africa: History after Apartheid

By Chandler, Robin M. | African Studies Review, December 2004 | Go to article overview

Visual Culture and Public Memory in a Democratic South Africa: History after Apartheid


Chandler, Robin M., African Studies Review


LITERATURE AND ARTS Annie E. Coombes. Visual Culture and Public Memory in a Democratic South Africa: History after Apartheid. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003. 384 pp. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $27.95. Paper.

Dominion has been a timeless theme of art, and monumental public art the most dramatic articulation of politicized nationalism. Monuments to war heroes, victors in conquest, totalitarian despots, or distinguished statesmen all typically pay visual homage to the idea of power, specifically male sovereignty. In South Africa there have always been two orders, the seen and the unseen, the ravaged and the reconstructed, mortality and immortality, death and rebirth, violence and beauty. These are "warring ideals," such that in public culture the victor and the vanquished seem irreconcilable, always contradictory. The museum world and the domain of visual and performance culture were, for decades, among the few sites where visions of resistance and social transformation could be presented in a society hemmed in by censorship.

In Visual Culture and Public Memory in a Democratic South Africa: History after Apartheid, Annie Coombes attempts to fence off a space in which recessed lighting figuratively illuminates the museological, the chronological, the diabolical. In writing about the complex political affiliations of the South African art world, however, she resurrects a somewhat dated ethnographic enterprise that reflects the intellectual cadence of a neocolonial art world. The sheer weight of the white authoritarian colonial mind over-powers text and subtext, and it is difficult to accept the author's analyses of models of historical knowledge when her vision has been shaped by European systems of thought. How does contemporary South Africa relinquish the "post-apartheid" nomenclature as a driving theme of public debate, art production, and art critique? Part of the dilemma in writing about South Africa's art world is that it is, compared to that of many other societies, a relatively small world. Apartheid put South Africa on the map. Thus Coombes's relentless focus on memory culture and the politicization of art demonstrates the challenges of trying to fashion any narrative of national identity outside of the realm of the political. The tensions concerning the museumification of Robben Island and District Six (chapters 2 and 3), for example, directly engage the question of exclusion-the exclusion of constituencies victimized by apartheid. Part of the problem in the South African art world has been the absence of alternative nonwhite institutions.

In other societies with histories of genocide and enslavement (read: the U.S.) in which those alternative art worlds thrive, however precariously, the articulation of power, politics, and art gradually develops its human capital; professional communities of color compete, if not always equally, to define their own realities. A community-based arts movement, built and sustained by committed cross-racial alliances in the 1960s-1990s, has provided an anti-museum site of counterhegemony which this book would have done well to document.

Globally, museums have served as public temples, a counterpoint to religious sites. Coombes explores the new codes of behavior stipulated by the "new" South Africa in chapter 6 by recounting the effects of contemporary events such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and how memorial and historical contemplation affects the new art emerging from a nation in the throes of reinvention. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Visual Culture and Public Memory in a Democratic South Africa: History after Apartheid
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.