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Plastic Histories Public art project by Cigdem Aydemir

14 July – 1 August 2014 | Bloemfontein, South Africa



14 July – 1 August 2014 | Bloemfontein, South Africa

Plastic Histories by Cigdem Aydemir is the first experimental art commission for the Vryfees (Vryfestival) in Bloemfontein, South Africa, as a partner in the Australian based SITUATE Art in Festivals initiative, managed by Salamanca Art Centre. This new experimental art commission is part of the Programme for Innovation in Artform Development (PIAD), developed by the Vryfees and the University of the Free State, to support long-term interdisciplinary research, cross-cultural engagement and development for the arts.



Contents Introduction




Waiting to exhale | Jonathan J Jansen


Poem: Vakuumverpak vir makismum varsheid | Gisela Ullyatt


Poem: Ndizalwa nobani | Kagisho Kolwane 20 Plastic knowledge, memory and history | AndrÊ Keet 24 President Steyn’s pigeon: Making the opaque shine | Lis Lange 29 Poem: Bomme nkhekhe | Charmaine Mrwebi 34 Poem: Mmakgosi wa Afrika | Tessa Ndlovu 36 Plastic histories: Queering the historical South African gaze | Nadine Lake


Credits 46



Plastic Histories: Steyn (2014), Monument shrink-wrapped in plastic with neon pink enamel

Introduction Most 19th Century, and even contemporary monuments in post-colonial countries such as South Africa are typically a celebration of men’s achievements in serving the empires or their nations. These monuments serve to shape collective memory in public spaces, and ensure against the failure of individual memory. Yet, we now know that our memory, far from being set in stone (or bronze), is plastic in the sense that it is constantly shaped and molded based on our new knowledge of the past. We also know that there are multiple histories in every era, and that often these alternative histories are not represented in public space. Plastic Histories is an attempt to visualize this by uncovering alternative histories, in particular acknowledging the contribution of women from all races, sexualities and genders in the grand narrative of a post-Apartheid South Africa. Cigdem Aydemir, 2014 Plastic Histories by Cigdem Aydemir is an exploration into the nature and meaning of historical monuments in public space. By physically and virtually shrink-wrapping monuments of historical male figures in pink plastic, Aydemir opens up a dialogue around the representation of histories in public space and the narratives that are held around them. While she alludes to the significance and preservation of public monuments, she concurrently reveals the nature of their sometimes contentious and gendered historical function. Plastic Histories creates a, somewhat, temporary utopia where these monuments can be used to empower and commemorate the unacknowledged and equally deserving, rather than those simply in power. Still, the process of highlighting alternative histories does not eliminate the historical context or value of the statues or indeed the legacy of the men they represent. In fact they serve to highlight the narratives of these men and the historical moments they embody. In a time when the general public is rarely aware of their stories, Plastic Histories offers an opportunity to consider and debate the purpose of these statues, and add the additional histories of women from all races, sexualities and genders to these sites of collective memory. Cigdem Aydemir is a Sydney based artist of Turkish Muslim heritage. Her interdisciplinary art practice incorporates installation, performance and video. She explores the convergence of gender, queer, religious, and cultural identities as well as themes of body politics and intersectionality. Much of her work interrogates the void between body and dress as well as its social and political implications. Coming from a fashion design background and being the daughter of a tailor, her conspicuous use of fabric simultaneously holds, falls, conceals and reveals, adorns and obfuscates.


Framework Plastic Histories is a multifaceted project comprising of three main components. This includes the physical shrinkwrapping of two monuments on the University of the Free State (UFS) main campus; the development of an augmented reality application for four monuments in the city of Bloemfontein; and an exhibition of digital prints, video and physically shrink-wrapped busts from the UFS permanent art collection, in the Johannes Stegmann Art Gallery. The statues of President Martinus Theunis Steyn, sixth State President of the Orange Free State (artist Anton van Wouw, 1929), and President Charles Robberts Swart, first State President of South Africa (artist Johann Moolman, 1994), are temporarily shrink-wrapped in pink plastic. This is accompanied by an augmented reality component, designed in partnership with artist Warren Armstrong, for the statues of General James Barry Munnik Hertzog, third Prime Minister of South Africa (artist Danie de Jager, 1967), President Francis William Reitz, fifth State President of the Orange Free State (artist Laura Rautenbach, 1986), President Johannes Henricus Brand, fourth state president of the Orange Free State (artist JW Best Jr., 1893), and General Christiaan Rudolf de Wet, Acting State President of the Orange Free State (artist Coert Steynberg, 1954). A free, downloadable application allows these monuments to appear pink when viewed through a smart phone or tablet. In addition the voices of South African poets Kagisho Kolwane (Xhosa), Charmaine Mrwebi (Sotho), Tessa Ndlovu (Afrikaans, English, Sotho) and Gisela Ullyatt (Afrikaans) are heard when viewing the application. The three components are integrated into a larger social media environment to create a visible space for alternative histories in public. This includes livestreaming of the shrink-wrapped President Steyn statue for the duration of the project, and a #PinkPresidents campaign to support women’s and queer rights.


Plastic Histories: Swart (2014), Monument shrink-wrapped in plastic with neon pink enamel



Plastic Histories: Steyn (reflection from UFS Main Building)

Plastic Histories: Swart (detail)

Plastic Histories: Steyn (detail)


Waiting to exhale There is something beautifully subversive in any creative project that takes on the somber and the sacred in social spaces. Such is the case with the decision of Cigdem Aydemir to vacuum pack two foundational figures in Afrikaner history, President MT Steyn and President CR Swart, whose statues feature prominently on the Bloemfontein campus of the University of the Free State. “They can’t breathe!” whispered a colleague known for her playful melodrama; I made the obvious biological point—“they’re stone.” And yet her point is well-made. Enveloping these historical statues in tightly concealed plastic covers does convey a sense of asphyxiation, taking away the breath of social and historical life accorded these historical icons. But what do they breathe? What are the expressions of lives once lived, and yet still lived, that Steyn and Swart exhale? Theirs is of course a message of Afrikaner nationalism from its infancy following the South African War (once known as the Anglo-Boer War) and its growing confidence that resulted in the narrow electoral victory of the Nationalist Party in 1948. It is white breath, for black South Africans were increasingly marginalized and oppressed under their respective regimes. But there is more than one story even as one should guard against moral equivalence of the anti-British struggle of the Afrikaners and the pro-apartheid oppression of the same people. President Steyn was a peacemaker, a person who sought, unsuccessfully, reconciliation between Kitchener and Kruger. Swart has little to commend him apart from the fact that he was the first law graduate from the UFS. Yet for some people in the country these two men, and what they represent, breathe life into the hearts and minds of those who draw on nostalgia for making sense of an unhappy present. In that sense, these are living stones and when you touch them, expect reaction, as in the case of one blogger who wanted the Australian artist to rather go back to her country and mess with the aborigines; this of course has long been the standard trope among white South Africans to foreigners (in the case of Americans, it is “the Indians” who should enjoy reflection) when there is any charge of racism. Painting the white envelope around the statues pink of course creates other dilemmas for South Africa’s masculine sensibilities, not dissimilar to the disgust expressed when the Blue Bulls rugby team (my team, in fact) at one stage wore pink outfits to demonstrate their support for fighting cancer. For real men, however, pink suggests softness, even gayety, with all the kinds of homophobic reaction the colour evokes. Which brings me to the power of plasticities as a construct, the very idea that what is sacred knowledge in one era bends in the direction of truth in another era. Tall and firm as these statues might stand, they enjoy little regard on campus today among the majority of students and a growing number of staff. Not only because of the problem of distant memory but also because of the problem of


discordant memory from a period of white supremacy and its attendant ills. Plastic can and does change shape and colour (sic) under the hands of real human beings. Here is the case for agency and activism; history is not simply given, it is made and re-made by all of us in formal settings like schools and universities but also in everyday life by what we talk about, remember and construct alongside, or in the place of, others’ sacred statues. I am delighted that the two statues continue to exist on our campus; there is something mindless and mean in displacement alone. Keeping some statues is one way of recognizing the sacred memories of others. However, if that is the only purpose for retention, then the act of retention itself is a blow to social justice. The statues, however, also allow for ironic memory, the idea that despite our supremacist history these statues are surrounded by, and given new life through, the many changes happening around them, and to them. All around Steyn and Swart new memorials are being created daily in symbolism and in substance, and hopefully in dialogic conversation; that, after all, is what universities should do. Finally, these sacred bodies are available for purposes of playful engagement, through this highly creative act of the Plastic Histories project, to give new meaning, even transform, solid stones into new life especially for those long waiting to exhale.

Jonathan D Jansen

Professor Jonathan Jansen is Vice Chancellor and Rector of the University of the Free State and President of the South African Institute of Race Relations. He holds a PhD from Stanford University, the MS degree from Cornell University, and honorary doctorates of education from the University of Edinburgh (Scotland), Cleveland State University (USA), and the University of Vermont (USA, 2014). He is a Fellow of the American Educational Research Association and a Fellow of the Academy of Science of the Developing World. His book Knowledge in the Blood: Confronting Race and the Apartheid Past (Stanford 2009) was listed as one of the best books of that year by the American Libraries Association. His new book, Schools that Work, uses video-documentaries to capture what happens inside disadvantaged schools which nevertheless produce the best results in physical science and mathematics in South Africa. He also writes popular books like Great South African Teachers (with two students), We need to talk, and We need to act (2013); and is a columnist for The Times and Die Burger. In 2013 he was awarded the Education Africa Lifetime Achiever Award in New York and the Spendlove Award from the University of California for his contributions to tolerance, democracy and human rights. In May 2014 he received an honorary doctor of letters degree at the University of Vermont.



Vakuumverpak vir maksimum varsheid Gisela Ullyatt

Vacuum packed for maximum freshness Translated by Gisela & Tony Ullyatt

sou jy ooit kon raai meneer die president dat ’n vrou jou grond só onheilig kon betree hier, op jou rooipleinsuidblokuniversiteit voor jou hoofgebou

could you have ever imagined mister president that a woman could tread so profanely on your ground here, on your redsquaresouthblockuniversity in front of your main building

sou jy ooit kon dink dat ek ook ’n boorling van die Oranje Boererepubliek sonder kappie die Vrystaatson kon beset sonder borstrok of gehekelde handskoentjies van kant dat jou Vrystaat-republiek se oranje verskif het tot Manguang metro-kleure

could you have ever thought that I also a native of the Orange Boer Republic could occupy the Free State sun without a bonnet without stays or crocheted gloves of lace that your Free State Republic’s orange has faded to Mangaung metro colours

meneer die boerepresident jy is ’n gyselaar van tyd en plek jou plot is dun jou karakters plat soos die vlaktes rondom Bloemfontein

mister boer president you are a hostage of time and place your plot is thin your characters flat like the plains around Bloemfontein

sou jy ooit kon droom, president van hierdie verlore Boererepubliek dat ’n vrou jou laaste suurstof sou kom roof want jy het ’n lugleegte van pienk geword dalk selfs ’n bietjie queer dalk gril jy so effens in hierdie wurgplastiek hierdie ademlose raklewe, kunsmatig verleng soos rou vleis

could you have ever dreamt president of this lost Boer Republic that a woman could rob you of your last oxygen because you have become a vacuum of pink perhaps a little queer perhaps you wince slightly in this strangulating plastic this oppressive shelf life artificially lengthened like raw meat

en ek dink aan daardie vrou, gekappie in haar taal voor die vrouemonument ingewig in sandsteen tot in aller ewigheid

and I think of that woman bonneted in her language in front of the women’s memorial wedged in sandstone for all eternity

waar tarentale in wintergrasse roep

where guineafowl call in the winter grass

sou sy haar verwonder oor daardie mystic boer verseël en afgeseël in pienk vakuumverpak vir maksimum varsheid soos ’n joko teesakkie

would she marvel at that mystic boer sealed up and sealed off in pink vacuum packed for maximum freshness like a joko teabag

sou sy droom oor haar eie kappielose dae

would she dream of her own bonnet-free days

Plastic Histories: Steyn overlooking the city of Bloemfontein


Plastic Histories: Hertzog II (2014), Digitally manipulated photograph

Plastic Histories: Reitz III (2014), Digitally manipulated photograph 16

Plastic Histories: Brand II (2014), Digitally manipulated photograph

Plastic Histories: Brand III (2014), Digitally manipulated photograph

Plastic Histories: Agterryer (2014), Digitally manipulated photograph

Plastic Histories: De Wet II (2014), Digitally manipulated photograph 17

Plastic Histories: Reitz I (2014), Digitally manipulated photograph


Plastic Histories: Reitz II (2014), Digitally manipulated photograph


Ndizalwa nobani Kagisho Kolwane

Who begot me Kagisho Kolwane

Mhize, Mkhabela, Maphobola, Mpondom’se, Nguni, Mhlubi u mnyama u mhlophe kum’kuya fana ulwimi luya gagaza luya xaxaza, umhlabauya jikeleza kum kuya fana ngi dinga inguquko e bomini bam’ ndi yona intombi e ngena so isiqalo ndi be yena u mama o ngena so sphelo i ngi a landele amandlozi am’

Mhize, Mkhabela, Maphobola, Mpondom’se, Nguni, Mhlubi white or black to me is the same the tongue clicks ‘xaxa and gaga’ the world goes around and around to me is the same I need change in my life.

akwa qaqisanga ukuthi ndi ya emva noma phambili ikamva lam a iliya luluma ngo dinga ingoqoko ebomini bam’ ndi umtwana o zwalwe ku rainbow nation ndiumtwana o multiracial. ilizwe lonke umdeni wam ubuntu bam bose luntwini ndi zalana ne lizwe lonke izinyanya zam zise Thabazimbi nase Bahamas ndi goqokile e bomini bam’ ngoba ndizalwa ngi manzi jikelela


I need change in my life who begot me I am a girl with no beginning I am a woman with no ending I know not my ancestor I follow not my culture its not clear whether I go back or forth my future has no certainty who begot me I am a child born in a rainbow nation I am a multi-racial child the whole nation is my family my humanity is in all human my ancestors are both in Thabazimbi and Bahamas I am related to the whole nation I have changed in my life for I am begotten by the whole of South Africa

Plastic Histories: Augmented reality, Process: Stage 1, 3D mapping, 123D Catch


Plastic Histories: Augmented reality, Process: Stage 2, recognition testing, Metaio Toolbox


Plastic Histories: Augmented reality, Process: Stage 3, integration system, Junaio application Plastic Histories: Augmented reality, Final application


Plastic knowledge, memory and history To look with the past through our memorialising, commemorative and historical artefacts is, in essence, an act of transformation; a plastic move. Not so much transforming the actual events of the past; but transforming the observer, the enquirer, the space of engagement, the present. Our historical statutes, celebrating a history of ‘racism’, ‘sexism’ and all other kinds of violence, require such transformative observations: importing them into the present because of their innate plasticity; and thus, as teachers of ‘justice’. Our cultural tendencies to import these artefacts as hermetic, sealed-off representations of a past go against the plasticity of our own make-up. We act against our own plastic nature to become ‘preservationists’ and ‘bigots’ of note. This acting against our innate intuition is the refusal to revisit a past which may unsettle our present; or disturb our privileges and moral economies. It is a rejection of the call of ‘transformation’; and thus a rejection, in the most intimate way, of the self. Now, for the first time here in our collective spaces, the public art project, Plastic Histories by Cigdem Aydemir combines the plasticity of history with the plasticities of its observers and interlocutors. It challenges the ways in which we have wrapped away our own plasticity. Through this project our own changeability is made vivid and inescapable from ourselves. Our moral responsibility towards everyday transformation in the direction of ‘justice’ is formulated within this plastic art. “[P]lasticity indicates malleability, suppleness, and being ‘susceptible to changes of form’” (Williams, 2013: 8). Malabou’s work (2005) re-introduces Hegel’s notion of plasticity and dialectic. Plasticity means “a capacity to receive form and a capacity to produce form” (Malabou, 2005: 9). Plasticity also refers to a philosophical attitude that Hegel described as a “sense of receptivity and understanding on the part of the listener [or the observer]” (ibid: 10) which Malabou (ibid) paraphrased as the reader and interlocutor being “receptive to the form, but they in their turn are lead to construct and form what they hear and read”. She interprets Hegel’s dialectic as a process of plasticity, “a movement where formation and dissolution, novelty and anticipation, are in continual interplay” (During on Malabou, 2000: 191). Hegel’s dialectic does not lead, as generally interpreted, to a closure, but to a future that is open (ibid: 192). The dialectic is regenerated as a forward movement because of its ‘plasticity’ The conceptualization of Aydemir’s project rests on the open dialectic of which Hegel speaks; its plasticity. It has clear counterparts in social reality; it is not simply ‘theoretical’. Rather, it speaks to pre-theoretical dispositions of human beings. We can thus argue that the very knowledge that we carry and engage with is plastic, so are our memory and history. Aydemir’s project invites us to engage a plastic history as plastic observers by which we can activate the justice-oriented transformability within all of us. André Keet


During, L. 2000. The future of Hegel: Plasticity, temporality, dialectic. Hypatia, 15: 196–220. Malabou, C. 2005. The future of Hegel. Plasticity, temporality and dialectic. Abingdon: Routledge. Malabou, C. 2010. Plasticity at the dusk of writing. New York: Columbia University Press. Williams, T. 2013. Plasticity, in retrospect: Changing the future of the humanities. Diacritics. 41(1) p. 6-25.

Professor AndrĂŠ Keet qualified as a teacher from the University of the Western Cape in South Africa where he completed his Masters Degree in Education (Cum Laude) in 1995. He also completed certificate courses in human rights in Uganda and Denmark in 1997 and 1998. A PhD degree from the University of Pretoria was conferred on him in April 2007. Keet joined the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) in 1996 and became its Deputy Chief Executive Officer in 2005. In 2008 he was appointed by the President to serve as a Commissioner on the Commission for Gender Equality. He joined the University of Fort Hare as the Director: Transdisciplinary Programme in 2008. Since July 2011, Keet has been based at the University of the Free State as the Director of the Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice. He serves on various structures in the higher education and human rights sectors and was appointed in January 2013 to serve on the Ministerial Oversight Committee on the Transformation of Higher Education in South Africa.



Plastic Histories: Steyn (detail)


Plastic Histories: Steyn (detail)


President Steyn’s pigeon: Making the opaque shine Presiding over the Red Square in the Bloemfontein Campus of the University of the Free State (UFS) there is a statue of Marthinus Theunis Steyn (1858-1916), South African lawyer, politician, statesman, and sixth and last president of the independent Orange Free State from 1896 to 1902. President Steyn is in a prime spot on campus. He overlooks the city from a slight elevation, with his back to the UFS’s main building where the Rector and top management of the university have their offices. Custodian and sentry of the past and the future? Whose past and whose future? On any given day, hundreds of people walk pass this statue; the majority of these people are students. I often wonder what students think about President Steyn’s statue, whether they know who he was, why he is there. I also wonder whether on any day students, or anybody for that matter, actually see Steyn. Every morning a solitary pigeon lands on Steyn’s head and rests there as the sun gets warmer. Every morning Steyn’s pigeon makes me smile. Is the pigeon a metaphor for liberated black people? Is it a metaphor for the cynicism of British colonialism? Is it a teaser on maleness? Is the pigeon a sign of nature or god having a sense of humour? Any or none; what matters is that Steyn’s pigeon makes me see the statue. The public art project by Cigdem Aydemir takes Steyn out of the anonymity of posterity. By making Steyn pink, Aydemir not only makes him irreverently visible; she also tries to make visible the ghosts of the unknown and unacknowledged others whose stories are not reflected in colonial monuments. Aydemir’s augmented reality through pink will have, for a couple of weeks, the same role as Steyn’s pigeon: it makes us see. What is there to be seen on the Bloemfontein Campus and in the city? That there are no statues celebrating black people for themselves (not for their contribution to the Boer War). Where is the statue to the domestic worker, to the farm labourer, to the mine worker, to the Indian trader? Where in the public art of our cities is the acknowledgement that we find it difficult to write, to tell, to represent history in its complex and contradictory layers? In this sense, public art turning its gaze to historic monuments in public spaces provides us with an important opportunity, as Aydemir suggests, to activate the space, and to think. Responding to this invitation I would like to reflect on two related themes: the human condition between past and future and how do we deal with memory? In her essay ‘The gap between past and future’, the German political thinker Hannah Arendt (1906-1976), uses Kafka’s short parable, HE, to reflect on the particular position of human beings in relation to time. In Kafka’s story HE has two antagonists. One presses him from behind: from the origin. The other blocks the road ahead. HE fights with both. To be sure, the first supports him in his fight with the second, for he wants to push him forward, and in the same way the second supports him in his fight with the first, since he 29

drives him back. But it is only theoretically so. For it is not only the two antagonists who are there, but he himself as well, and who really knows his intentions? (Kafta cited in Arendt, 2006: 7) Much philosophical and historiographic theorisation has gone into defining the relationship of human beings to time and in particular to understand the position of human beings in relation to the present. Is the present more than the in-between moment, the gap, between past and future? And if the present is a gap, what is the historical, existential and political meaning of now? Just as important, how does the gap stand in relation to past and future? The preferred uncomplicated image is that of the past, the origin, pushing humanity back while the future pulls it forward. Arendt has a much more interesting interpretation of the gap between past and future as she reads it in Kafka. In Arendt’s reading of Kafka both past and future are forces but the past does not pull back but presses forward and it is the future which drives us back into the past (2006: 10). Thus human existence is the historical circumstance which interrupts what otherwise would be an endless continuum. Two elements interest me in Arendt’s thinking in this regard. First what does it mean that the past, the origin, presses forward? Secondly, what is the role of human beings between past and future? The reading of the past as pressing forward evokes the notion of building on permanence, the notion of continuity, of (un)change. This is one type of historic political narrative that sees the world not just in relation to the past but as its necessary continuity. This is an interpretation of the world in which history and tradition are not threads that link societies back to their conflictive and contradictory origins but an interpretation of the world that needs no tradition (linking back) because the world is actively in the origin. In this sense, the past presses human beings forward as they are. The counterpart of this is a future that instead of pulling forward presses back. Is this a matter of anguish in the face of the unknown future or a conservative metaphor that suggests, once again, sameness and (un) change? Yet there is another, much more Arendtian, understanding of the parable of HE. In this reading the play of forces constitutes the field within which human beings think and make sense of the world. It is precisely human thinking, the search for understanding of the present or rather the gap between past and future, which makes life not only possible but livable. This thinking happens historically with the past pushing us forward and the future pushing back to look for the past in the endless ‘movement’ of reflection. Monuments, and more generally art in the public space, provide, in some respects like the space of forces that HE inhabits, opportunities to think. The fact that, more often than not, we do not see monuments, speaks as much of the routinisation of our lives as it speaks to the anaesthetic value of objects that, whether from the past or from the future, do not speak to the passerby or the bystander. Is it that President Steyn and his fellow monuments do not speak to the majority because they are the history of others? Or it is that President Steyn et al do not speak to the majority because we are still to understand how to make them speak properly? Making Steyn speak is part of the process of creating and discovering memory. Unlike memory of personal, sensorial experiences, historical memory is not spontaneous, it has to be developed. In this sense memory can be ideological if it is provided without a logbook 30

to make it, if not transparent, at least not opaque. Social memory is after all history, i.e. a purposeful selection of stories that different groups of people decided to keep and remember and retell. To think in the face of historical memory would mean to counterpoise Steyn and Milner, and Milner and Steyn and Kruger, to the anonymous white people and the invisible black people. To think means to be able to put oneself in the shoes of the other, not necessarily to forgive but to understand. I like President Steyn’s pigeon because it reconciles me with Steyn’s presence at the UFS in 2014. Yet something more purposeful and more thoughtful can be done for the public space of the UFS, and for public spaces more generally, to be truly agoric and to encourage public debate. One possible approach is to decide that President Steyn needs company: the company could be the inclusion of another statue, for both of them to constitute a South African version of the Janus gate in the Roman Empire. Yet, this approach might be just as incomplete and unsatisfactory as Steyn’s lonely presence on the square, and if that were the case, we would need another resident pigeon to ensure that we keep on seeing these monuments. However, ‘company’ can also be generated by the manner in which President Steyn and his colleague monuments are presented and represented to the public. Then the public space becomes an archive that can be read and that is being interpreted in dialogue. The narrative of our history can become complex and nuanced and therefore allow us as a society to start seeing each other. Art and public art in particular has a fundamental political and philosophical role to play in helping us to acknowledge our condition between past and present and our need to make sense of ourselves and our world. Lis Lange Arendt, H. 2006. Between past and future. New York: Penguin

Dr Lis Lange is currently Acting Vice-Rector: Academic at the University of the Free State where she holds a substantive position as Senior Director heading the Directorate for Institutional Research and Academic Planning. Before this, she was the Executive Director (2006-2010) of the Higher Education Quality Committee of the Council of Higher Education (CHE), and Acting CEO of the same organisation between August 2007 and April 2008. She has been involved in the development and implementation of science and technology and higher education policy in South Africa for a decade and a half, working in different capacities in the Human Sciences Research Council, the National Research Foundation and the Council on Higher Education. Dr Lange has served as a member of the board of the International Network of Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (INQAAHE) and has participated in several international initiatives on quality assurance. She is the editor of an academic journal focused on the humanities, Acta Academica. She has undertaken research and published in the fields of history, higher education and quality assurance. Her major concern in both research and practice is the role of higher education in the development of democratic societies based on social justice. Dr Lange studied in Argentina, Mexico and South Africa, where she obtained a PhD in South African history from the University of the Witwatersrand.


Plastic Histories: Busts (installation) (2014), Busts shrink-wrapped in plastic with neon pink enamel


Plastic Histories: Busts (installation) (2014), Busts shrink-wrapped in plastic with neon pink enamel

Plastic Histories: Busts (video component) (2014), Video loop


Bomme nkhekhe Charmaine Mrwebi

Women the gurus Translated by Kesa Molotsane

bomme nkhekhe, bana ba letsopa la Afrika batsitsinya matheka, ba ikotla difuba banyenya ba sa qete ba qoqa ebile ba qwakisetsana le bonkhekhehadi disalonung, merapelong, di societing ba shwaswatha modumo ele o motonahadi, e ka ba ka tloha ba kgorohelana

women the gurus, children of the African soil shaking their waists, priding themselves talking endlessly they hold conversations and even debating against the greater gurus at the salons, prayer meetings, stokvels they talk a lot great is their sound as if they would gobble at each other

bomme nkhekhe mosadi popelo o bohale, o tibile o ikokobeditse pelo ya hae e metsi o nesa pula ho tswa ka ntle ho ya hare botebong keledi tse rothang marameng a hae dibonthsa senatla se mameletseng tumelong se batla bohobe se lwana ntwa bomme nkhekhe batlhokomedi ba bo ngwaneno ba nka maemo a bona dishweshwe tsa bina mediyanyewe ba e hataka ka maoto ho tla boemong ba emong, le emong jwalo ka eo a tswetsweng tsweleng le le leng ba bua puo e tswejwang ke bone puo ya ho hodisa bana puo ya o tswara thipa ka bohaleng setjhaba sa mmala o sebilo se phelo ke bonkhekhegadi


women the gurus woman, strict is her womb she is deep, she is humble her heart is as flowing as water she makes it rain from the outside to the inside, deep down tears running down her chicks show her great might of perseverance in faith she looks for bread (food) she fights a fight (of survival) women the gurus the care-takers of your siblings taking their positions talkative ones began to sing stepping on top of the Sotho-hats (medianyewe) with their feet putting themselves in other’s situations just as those who are fed from the same breast speaking a common language amongst themselves a language of raising children a language intervention the black nations survive due to these great gurus

Plastic Histories: Busts (installation) (2014), Busts shrink-wrapped in plastic with neon pink enamel


Mmakgosi wa Afrika Tessa Ndlovu mmakgosi wa Afrika o montle, o maatla o tsetswe mo Afrika o godisitswe go tswa letseleng la mme wa lefatsheng queen of Africa she is an intellectual she compliments her generation with her education ke mosadi wa Afrika

she understands that she is a legend her words are legendary even when not relevant she is still necessary she exist in and out of time yes…she is authentic Kgosatsana ya Afrika

liberal and powerful she embraces her beauty with or without a weave in a graceful fashion

she is who she is because all she composes is forever compressed in time even though she will decompose

with distinctive style she carries her children on her voluptuous hips and balanced them on her womanly curves

‘n vrou is daai groen wat jy kry as jy te veel geel meng met blou die skynsel van goud wat jy kry wanneer die son gaan woon in die duister en wanneer dit weer opkom in die dagbreek voor dou

with a smile that glows and a womb that leaps it is not the way her hips move when she walks or the accent on her lips when she talks sy dans soos die Khoi-Khoi terwyl haar lyfie swaai soos die Boesman kyk tog mooi sy kleef haar Here vas aan haar bors en slat haar twee oë op na bo terwyl haar tong gly soos die Griekwa sy is ‘n afstammeling van Saartjie Baartman ‘n vrou gebore in Afrika


misunderstood she is not made from dirt but from Adam’s rib from Sarah to the Virgin Mary she is design for durable she gives life to legends and prophets

sy is die oorgang van die derde en vierde dimensie van tyd die liefde wat jy in jou binneste voel en jy weet hoe dit voel die een wat jy lief het she is that kind of woman who feeds her children with one cup of maize and still give God her praise she is bad she is pure powerful and courageous Kgosatsana ya Afrika

Queen of Africa Tessa Ndlovu queen of Africa beautiful and powerful born in Africa raised from the breast of an African mother queen of Africa she is an intellectual she compliments her generation with her education woman of Africa

misunderstood she is not made from dirt but from Adam’s rib from Sarah to the Virgin Mary she is designed for durability she gives life to legends and prophets she understands that she is a legend her words are legendary even when not relevant she is still necessary she exists in and out of time yes‌she is authentic princess of Africa

liberal and powerful she embraces her beauty with or without a weave in a graceful fashion

she is who she is because all she composes is forever compressed in time even though she will decompose

with distinctive style she carries her children on her voluptuous hips and balances them on her womanly curves

a woman is that kind of green that you get when you mix too much yellow with blue the appearance of gold when the sun recides in the darkness and when it rises before daybreak

with a smile that glows and a womb that leaps it is not the way her hips move when she walks or the accent on her lips when she talks she dances like the Khoi-Khoi while her body moves like the Bushman please look carefully she keeps her Lord close to her chest and keeps her eyes to the sky while her tongue slips like the Griqua she is a descendent from Saartjie Baartman a woman born in Africa

she is the descent from the third to the fourth dimension of time she is the love that you feel in your innermost being and you know what you feel she is the one that you love she is that kind of woman who feeds her children with one cup of maize and still gives God her praise she is bad she is pure powerful and courageous princess of Africa



Livestreaming Plastic Histories: Steyn. UFS youtube channel


Plastic Histories: Swart in front of CR Swart Building


Plastic histories: Queering the historical South African gaze One can safely say, at this point, that there is no single narrative of the nation. Different groups (genders, classes, ethnicities, generations and so on) do not experience the myriad national formations in the same way. Nations are invented, performed and consumed in ways that do not follow a universal blueprint (McClintock, A. 1995: 360). Nationalism has become an increasingly contested notion since South Africa’s transition to democracy. It is also true that nationalism is a gendered concept that has been manipulated by and for the benefit of privileged men. In her book Imperial Leather, Anne McClintock makes insightful reference to the performative nature of nationalism and, more specifically, the performative spectacle, which ultimately developed into an Afrikaner nationalist identity. Afrikaner nationalism and its association with white, male supremacy ultimately resulted in an exclusionary system of racialised privilege. Furthermore, for McClintock nationalism is “constitutive of people’s identities through social contests that are frequently violent and always gendered” (1995: 353). These heteropatriarchal and racially exclusive performances resulted in a segregated society with citizenship rights reserved for a South African minority. 2014 marks the country’s 20th year of democracy and although significant strides have been made to address historical inequalities of racial and sexual privileging, the notion of citizenship remains a contentious issue today. A city whose architecture and monuments embodies certain elements of this white hetereopatriarchal order is Bloemfontein. The city has a rich history pertaining to the South African War and the Women’s Monument, which honours the lives of women and children who suffered and died in concentration camps, is also situated here. It is important to note here that although women are memorialised at the Monument, they are symbolically portrayed as mothers of the nation. McClintock (2004: 105) explains: “[b]y portraying the Afrikaner nation symbolically as a weeping woman, the mighty male embarrassment of military defeat could be overlooked and the memory of women’s vital efforts during the war washed away in images of feminine tears and maternal loss.” When walking the city streets of Bloemfontein today it becomes clear that historical male monuments present a rupture with contemporary South African politics. This rupture urges us to grapple with the relevance of preserving a history, which is far removed from the everyday reality of the broader South African populace. It is in this context that I would like to discuss the 2014 public art project titled Plastic Histories and suggest that some of the questions posed by the artist Cigdem Aydemir may serve to productively queer normative histories. Plastic Histories is a public arts project that initiates awareness by means of shrink wrapping or presenting an augmented reality of 19th and 20th century male monuments. By presenting monuments that favour a history of white, male privilege through an alternative lens, in this case a pink one, the artist challenges us to consider questions regarding the audience of and interest in these monuments, their need and origin, and the future relevance of these historical figures. Plastic Histories facilitates a process that enables the public to engage with the monuments in a way that disrupts normative assimilation of the everyday environment. The project also encourages one to move beyond the myopic history of white, male privilege to one of racial and gender inclusivity. It is in this way that Plastic Histories plays a productive role in queering one’s gaze and imagining an alternative South African reality. A queer perspective of these


monuments recognises that nationalism is in fact a feminist and queer issue, and monuments of a bygone time will momentarily be employed to empower and commemorate an unacknowledged South African history. Aydemir’s project opens a critical space to examine an untold herstory. The stories of the historically defined other become central to this project. While Plastic Histories commemorates the lives of the broadly defined other, I would like to suggest that gay and lesbian citizens can also play a central role in breaking away from the traditional notion of the nuclear family where “women embody tradition and keep it alive at the hearth, while men forge out and ahead into modernity” (Munro, B. 2009: 405). Brenna Munro poignantly highlights the danger of viewing the nation as a family romance: nations are commonly represented through the iconography of family, and the tropes of birth and the child often stand in for both national origins and patriotic futures, symbolically binding notions of national belonging to biological reproduction and thus heterosexuality. If the (innocent) child is the opposite of the (depraved) queer, the queer is stranger rather than family, outsider rather than citizen. (405) This poses particular challenges for any citizen that falls outside of the normative categories associated with nationalism. While the South African constitution stipulates that discrimination may not take place on the grounds of gender, ethnicity, disability, or sexual orientation, it is clear that certain heteronormative identities continue to be favoured in this democratic dispensation. One particular example being the rise of ‘corrective rapes’ of black lesbians in South Africa where heterosexuality is viewed as the only legitimate account of sexuality. A distinct example of the necessity to queer a heteronormative idea of nationalism can be found in the work of South African visual activist and lesbian artist, Zanele Muholi. Muholi documents black lesbian lives in straight portraits and succeeds in queering the viewer’s gaze. Muholi’s photography resists any easy categorisation and a photograph entitled “[w]hat don’t you see when you look at me?” cleverly initiates different ways of seeing and looking. Muholi challenges the heteronormative gaze and her documentary project represents black lesbian sexualities in textured, rich, and diverse ways. Through this positive imagery and visibility, her work aspires to subvert the dehumanising and delegitimising practices that are associated with colonialist, racist, and heterosexist thinking and discourse. Muholi’s work, however, has often been misunderstood, and the controversial and so-called confrontational nature of her photography has often been met with disgust and contempt. Lulu Xingwana, South African minister of Arts and Culture, was shocked by Muholi’s photography at an exhibition held at Constitution Hill, Johannesburg in 2009. The work, which depicted intimacy between black lesbians, was described by Xingwana as “pornographic,” and “immoral, offensive, and going against nationbuilding.” The engendered nature of nationalism poses challenges for queer figures in contemporary South African discourse. Women’s needs have historically been defined relationally to those of men with their national citizenship being granted through marriage. A woman’s role as wife and mother therefore became a symbolic signifier for her function in the South African nationalist imperative. The development of nationalist identity for both white and black South Africans foregrounded women as symbolic bearers of the nation and these nationalist discourses continue to be employed in the country’s political, economic, and social discourses. 42

Like Muholi’s work, Plastic Histories presents an alternative view of histories that challenges our normative gaze. The queer figure thus resists easy categorisation, becoming central to allowing a future nationalist discourse that is removed from a heterosexist family trope; a trope that has been complicit in valuing certain bodies and identities more than others. Contemporary visual projects in South Africa must acknowledge the powerful role of heteronormative signifiers in the development of a nationalist identity. In Plastic Histories, Aydemir challenges us to look once more at objects that have become habitualised in our landscape, to refocus our gaze in an attempt to disrupt highly nationalistic narratives, and to ‘re-read’ these monuments which present only one version of the past. Nadine Lake

McClintock, A. 1995. Imperial leather: Race, gender and sexuality in the colonial contest. New York: Routledge. McClintock, A., Mufti, A., and Shohat, E. (eds). 2004. Dangerous liaisons: Gender, nation & postcolonial perspectives. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Muholi, Z. 2010. Faces and phases. Munich, Berlin, London and New York: Prestel. Munro, B. 2009. Queer family romance: Writing the “new” South Africa in the 1990s. A journal of lesbian and gay studies, 15(3), p. 397-439. Van Wyk, L. 2010. Homophobic claims ‘baseless, insulting’. Available at [Accessed 25 June 2014].

Nadine Lake obtained her MA Gender Studies qualification from the University of the Free State (UFS). Her PhD study focuses on ‘corrective rape’ and the homophobic everyday in contemporary South African cultural texts. Nadine has recently been awarded an Erasmus Mundus (EU Saturn) Scholarship that will enable her to complete her Doctoral Studies at the Centre for Gender Research at Uppsala University, Sweden. She is currently employed as Director of the Gender Studies programme housed in the Centre for Africa Studies, UFS. Her research interests include feminist literary and cultural studies, gender and masculinity studies, queer theory, and theories of embodiment. 43


Plastic Histories: Steyn in front of UFS Main Building 45

Credits Curators Carli Leimbach | Executive Creative Producer SITUATE Art in Festivals Dr Ricardo Peach | Director Programme for Innovation in Artform Development Angela de Jesus | Art Curator University of the Free State Production Adri van Veijeren | Director Vryfees Professor Nicky Morgan | Vice-Rector: Operations University of the Free State Rosemary Miller | CEO/Artistic Director Salamanca Art Centre Kate Dezarnaulds | Business Development Consultant Lezanda du Plessis | Production Co-ordinator Vryfees Maritsa Barlow | Production Manager Vryfees Mandi-Anne Bezuidenhout | PIAD Production Assistant University of the Free State Contributors Professor Jonathan J Jansen | Vice-Chancellor and Rector University of the Free State Professor AndrĂŠ Keet | Director Institute of Reconciliation and Social Justice University of the Free State

Presented by:


Dr Lis Lange | Acting Vice-Rector: Academic Senior Director Directorate for Institutional Research and Academic Planning University of the Free State Nadine Lake | Programme Director Gender Studies Programme University of the Free State

Poets Charmaine Mrwebi | Gisela Ullyatt Kagisho Kolwane | Tessa Ndlovu Augmented reality Warren Armstrong Mandi-Anne Bezuidenhout | Dr Ricardo Peach Livestreaming Gavin Coetzer Publicity and communications Tiani Chillemi | DeCode Media Johannes Deetlefs | Silverrocket Creative Photographs Cigdem Aydemir | Mandi-Anne Bezuidenhout Production crew Robyn-Leigh Hudson Mine Kleynhans | Isaai Thabiso Titi Production volunteers Karla Benade | Chris Kleynhans | Jeannie Johnston Louis KrĂźger | Preshton Swartz | Caronice Oss

Principal supporters:

Additional support:

Johannes Stegmann Art Gallery | University of the Free State 205 Nelson Mandela Ave, Bloemfontein, 9301, South Africa PO Box 339 (12), Bloemfontein, 9300, South Africa +27 (0) 51 401 2706 | | ISBN Number: 978-0-86886-824-0 © 2014 Cigdem Aydemir © 2014 Johannes Stegmann Art Gallery, University of the Free State 47




Plastic Histories Catalogue 2014  
Plastic Histories Catalogue 2014  

Plastic Histories by Cigdem Aydemir is the first experimental art commission for the Vryfees (Vryfestival) in Bloemfontein, South Africa, as...