Apt Appropriation

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0022217/00001

Material Information

Title: Apt Appropriation Contemporary African Artists' Utilization of Canonical Western Art
Physical Description: 1 online resource (98 p.)
Language: english
Publisher: University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2008


Subjects / Keywords: africa, african, appropriation, art, botha, canon, canonical, carlo, contemporary, david, fragonard, gibson, hassan, history, johannes, michelangelo, musa, pastiche, pater, phokela, pieta, rococo, rubens, shonibare, strangelove, swing, western, wim, yinka, ziemek
Art and Art History -- Dissertations, Academic -- UF
Genre: Art History thesis, M.A.
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: A number of important contemporary African artists have utilized the Western canon of art history as a central theme in their work. These artists have borrowed a great deal of imagery from recognizable Western works, appropriating elements to serve their own critical purposes. Some re-fashion essential parts, others parody canonical works; some create simulacra, others combine elements to create montage, while still others borrow recognizable styles while infusing works with contemporary resonances. My exploration of contemporary African artists who utilize elements of the Western canon seeks to document and discern the diverse motivations for cultural exchanges between the West and Africa via the visual arts. I will analyze a selection of works by Nigerian/British artist Yinka Shonibare, MBE, who transforms familiar eighteenth-century French works of art into life-size sculptural installations re-dressed in 'African' wax-print fabrics. I will also address South African artist Wim Botha's re-fashioning of a well-known Renaissance religious sculpture. I will consider works by Sudanese artist Hassan Musa, who incorporates recognizable elements from many Western works into his paintings on textiles. South African design team Strangelove's re-creation of a particularly widespread image of a well-known Western work challenges viewers to rethink the original work in light of this contemporary re-imagining. South African artist Johannes Phokela's use of a Rubens-influenced Baroque style of painting combined with contemporary allusions will also be interrogated. These artists harness the familiarity and visual power of the Western images, while altering the images to serve their own means. By changing certain aspects of the original works, the re-imagined works' diverse meanings become clear. Through close analysis, I will show how this selection of contemporary African artists' works critique contemporary and historical understandings of global relations, the art world, and particular histories that still reverberate today.
General Note: In the series University of Florida Digital Collections.
General Note: Includes vita.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: Description based on online resource; title from PDF title page.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The University of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Thesis: Thesis (M.A.)--University of Florida, 2008.
Local: Adviser: Rovine, Victoria.

Record Information

Source Institution: UFRGP
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: lcc - LD1780 2008
System ID: UFE0022217:00001

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0022217/00001

Material Information

Title: Apt Appropriation Contemporary African Artists' Utilization of Canonical Western Art
Physical Description: 1 online resource (98 p.)
Language: english
Publisher: University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2008


Subjects / Keywords: africa, african, appropriation, art, botha, canon, canonical, carlo, contemporary, david, fragonard, gibson, hassan, history, johannes, michelangelo, musa, pastiche, pater, phokela, pieta, rococo, rubens, shonibare, strangelove, swing, western, wim, yinka, ziemek
Art and Art History -- Dissertations, Academic -- UF
Genre: Art History thesis, M.A.
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: A number of important contemporary African artists have utilized the Western canon of art history as a central theme in their work. These artists have borrowed a great deal of imagery from recognizable Western works, appropriating elements to serve their own critical purposes. Some re-fashion essential parts, others parody canonical works; some create simulacra, others combine elements to create montage, while still others borrow recognizable styles while infusing works with contemporary resonances. My exploration of contemporary African artists who utilize elements of the Western canon seeks to document and discern the diverse motivations for cultural exchanges between the West and Africa via the visual arts. I will analyze a selection of works by Nigerian/British artist Yinka Shonibare, MBE, who transforms familiar eighteenth-century French works of art into life-size sculptural installations re-dressed in 'African' wax-print fabrics. I will also address South African artist Wim Botha's re-fashioning of a well-known Renaissance religious sculpture. I will consider works by Sudanese artist Hassan Musa, who incorporates recognizable elements from many Western works into his paintings on textiles. South African design team Strangelove's re-creation of a particularly widespread image of a well-known Western work challenges viewers to rethink the original work in light of this contemporary re-imagining. South African artist Johannes Phokela's use of a Rubens-influenced Baroque style of painting combined with contemporary allusions will also be interrogated. These artists harness the familiarity and visual power of the Western images, while altering the images to serve their own means. By changing certain aspects of the original works, the re-imagined works' diverse meanings become clear. Through close analysis, I will show how this selection of contemporary African artists' works critique contemporary and historical understandings of global relations, the art world, and particular histories that still reverberate today.
General Note: In the series University of Florida Digital Collections.
General Note: Includes vita.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: Description based on online resource; title from PDF title page.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The University of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Thesis: Thesis (M.A.)--University of Florida, 2008.
Local: Adviser: Rovine, Victoria.

Record Information

Source Institution: UFRGP
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: lcc - LD1780 2008
System ID: UFE0022217:00001

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2 2008 MacKenzie Moon


3 To my cheerleaders


4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS My gratitude goes first to m y advisor and me ntor Dr. Victoria L. Rovine. She has guided this endeavor and seen it through to fruition. I w ould like to thank Drs. Robin Poynor, Alexander Alberro, Eric Segal, Melissa Hyde, Shepherd St einer, Susan Cooksey and Leonardo Lasansky for their support in my personal development as a scholar. I am also grateful to my Gainesville friends who made this process more than merely enjoyable. My family has been unwavering in their support, and for that, I am ever humbled. An especial note of thanks goes to Wim Botha, Ziemek Pater, Carlo Gibson, and Yinka Shoni bare, MBE, who graciously answered my sometimes tedious queries.


5 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS...............................................................................................................4 ABSTRACT.....................................................................................................................................7 CHAP TER 1 INTRODUCTION....................................................................................................................9 The Challenges of Working with Lesser-Known Artists....................................................... 11 Predominance of South African Artists.................................................................................. 11 2 THEORETICAL UNDERPINNINGS...................................................................................13 Semantic Interrogation......................................................................................................... ...17 The Canon...............................................................................................................................19 The Problematics of Classifying Artists.................................................................................20 3 YINKA SHONIBARE, MBE................................................................................................. 24 African Wax-Print Fabrics.................................................................................................. 26 Reoccurring Motifs.................................................................................................................29 Parodied Canonical Works..................................................................................................... 33 Multivalent Readings of Fragonard........................................................................................ 35 4 WIM BOTHA: MIELIEPAP PIET ......................................................................................46 Beyond Michelangelo.............................................................................................................47 Function of Sim ul acrum......................................................................................................... 49 Marble versus Maize Meal..................................................................................................... 53 On Exhibition..........................................................................................................................54 5 STRANGELOVE: AFRICAN DAVI D ....................................................................................57 Art and Fashion................................................................................................................ .......59 Function of Re-creation........................................................................................................ ..62 Original Impetus.....................................................................................................................64 6 JOHANNES PHOKELA: APOTHEOSIS ..............................................................................66 Rubens Revisited....................................................................................................................67 Painterly Qualities..................................................................................................................68 Intertwined Histories.......................................................................................................... ....70 Contemporary References......................................................................................................72 Curious Inscription.................................................................................................................74


6 7 HASSAN MUSA: SAINT SEBASTIAN OF THE SUNFLOWER ...........................................77 Function of Combined Imagery..............................................................................................80 ArtAfricanism.....................................................................................................................81 Related Works.................................................................................................................. ......82 8 CONCLUSION..................................................................................................................... ..85 APPENDIX LIST OF ART WORKS CITED........................................................................... 87 LIST OF REFERENCES...............................................................................................................90 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.........................................................................................................98


7 Abstract of Thesis Presen ted to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts APT APPROPRIATION: CONTEMPORARY AFRICAN ARTISTS UTILIZATION OF CANONICAL WESTERN ART By MacKenzie Moon May 2008 Chair: Victoria L. Rovine Major: Art History A number of important contemporary African ar tists have utilized the Western canon of art history as a central theme in their work. These artists have borrowed a great deal of imagery from recognizable Western works, appropriating elements to serve their own critical purposes. Some re-fashion essential parts, others parody canonical works; some create simulacra, others combine elements to create montage, while stil l others borrow recognizable styles while infusing works with contemporary resonances. My expl oration of contemporar y African artists who utilize elements of the Western canon seeks to document and discern the diverse motivations for cultural exchanges between the West and Africa via the visual arts. I will analyze a select ion of works by Nigerian/British artist Yinka Shonibare, MBE, who transforms familiar eighteenth-century French works of art into life-size sculptural installations re-dressed in African wax-print fabrics. I will also address S outh African artist Wim Bothas re-fashioning of a wellknown Renaissance religious sculpt ure. I will consider works by Sudanese artist Hassan Musa, who incorporat es recognizable elements from many Western works into his paintings on text iles. South African design team Strangeloves re-creation of a particularly widespread image of a well-known Western work challenges viewers to rethink the original work in light of this contempor ary re-imagining. South African artist Johannes


8 Phokelas use of a Rubens-influenced Baroque st yle of painting combined with contemporary allusions will also be interrogated. These artists harness the familiarity and visual power of the Western images, while altering the images to serve their own means. By changing certain aspects of the original works, the reimagined works diverse meanings become clear. Through close analysis, I will show how this selection of contemporary Afri can artists works critique contemporary and historical understandings of global relations, the art world, and particular hi stories that still reverberate today.


9 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION A num ber of important contemporary African ar tists have utilized the Western canon of art history as a central theme in their work. Each artist has bor rowed imagery from recognizable Western works that are frequently exhibited and have been the subj ect of much critical analysis. These artists have re-imagined familiar wo rks according to their own aims. Looking at contemporary African artists who utilize elem ents of the Western canon reveals important manifestations of conceptual and cultural exch ange that takes place between the West and Africa via visual arts. Contemporary African artists of ten find themselves with a foot in both African and Western cultures, and this globalized aspect of their lived experience s allows them a notable multi-cultural perspective, which often informs and shapes their work. Many of these artists ideas manifest in play ful and biting political and cultural criticisms. These critiques make these works powerful commentaries on global interactions. Contemporary African artists employ varied means to make us e of recognizable Western visual art. Their borrowings present viewers with the opportunity to reconsider, question, and revisit both the original works and their re-creations. These artis ts harness the Western images familiarity and visual power, while altering the im ages to serve their own means. Some re-motivate these images to refute Eurocentric fictions, while others complicate conventional no tions and ideologies. Generally, these artists borrow imagery to undermine or complicate historical and/or contemporary understandings, both of Africa and the West. This analysis opens with a selection of works by renowned Nigerian/British artist Yinka Shonibare, MBE, who transforms familiar eighteent h-century French works of art into life-size sculptural installations re-dress ed in African wax-print fabr ics. South African artist Wim Bothas refashioning of a well-known Renaissance religious sculpture will also be addressed.


10 Works by Sudanese artist Hassan Musa, who in corporates recognizable elements from many Western works into his paintings on textiles will also be considered. South African design team Strangeloves re-creation of a particularly wi despread image of a we ll-known Western work challenges viewers to rethink the original work in light of this contem porary re-imagining. South African artist Johannes Phokelas use of a Rubene sque Baroque style of painting combined with contemporary allusions will also be interrogate d. All of these works by this selection of contemporary African artists make their initial visual impact because of their familiarity. Viewers can recognize familiar aspects at first glance. Their diverse meanings, which depart from the recognizable faades, become clear after specific aspects of the re-imagined works are realized. After an initial familiarity is estab lished, viewers may feel courted by Shonibare or duped by Botha, and perhaps pressed into seeing the deeper criticisms each work has to offer. Contemporary African artists w ho utilize recognizable Western imagery in their works of art do not do so lightly. Each artist capitalizes on the familiarity of the original image to attract the viewers attention. The artist s appropriate elements in thei r own ways to serve their own critical purposes. Through their appropriation, so me re-fashion essential parts, others parody canonical works; some create simulacra, others co mbine elements to create montage, while still others borrow recognizable styles while infusi ng works with contemporary resonances. Each artist uses slightly different means of appropria tion, and the artists motivations for using references to canonical Western works will be interrogated. By using familiar images, artists may intend to prompt viewers to reconsider original works. These images may be employed as a metaphor for the West, for use in postcolonial cr itiques. Artists may actively engage with the works parodied, or they may utilize them simply for their familiarity. Close analysis will reveal how this selection of contemporary African arti sts works that utilize elements of canonical


11 Western works of art critique contemporary and historical understandings of global relations, the art world, and particular historie s that still reve rberate today. The Challenges of Working with Lesser-Known Artists All of the artists included here use sim ilar methods to achieve different ends. However, a few representative superstars continue to be th e only recognized non-West ern artists visible in the Western art establishment. Therefore, I tr y to bring lesser-known artists to the fore by anchoring them to one of thes e darlings of contemporary Afri can artYinka Shonibare, MBE. The artists I have selected a ll use appropriated canonical Wester n imagery, much like Shonibare. However, the challenges of writing on lesser-known artists must be acknowledged. Little critical writing is accessible or available, so to aid my own reading of the works in question, I have, where possible, communicated direc tly with the artists themselves.1 I have also scoured what little critical writing is available, including e xhibition essays, reviews, interviews, and other related texts. Predominance of South African Artists The predominance of South African artists both in the contempor ary art gallery and museum world broadly and in the group of artists under consideration here must be considered. Of the six artists I have selected, four are from South AfricaWim Botha, Strangelove (a team of two artists) and Johannes Phokela. Each of th ese artists considers the role of South Africas turbulent history in different ways, some imp licitly, some explicitly. The prominence of South African artists reflects the streng th of the professional art scene in South Africa, which is much more developed than most other African countri es. Johannesburg and Cape Town boast thriving 1 Wim Botha and Carlo Gibson and Ziemek Pater of Strang elove graciously communicated with me via email, and Yinka Shonibare, MBE, answered my questions on the occasion of his January 2008 exhibition opening, Odile and Odette


12 gallery scenes, and the Johannesburg bie nnials of 1995 and 1997 announced South Africas return to the internationa l art scene, though this particular bie nnial has ceased in recent years. Partly due to South Africas si ngular history and partly due to its active art scene, several exhibitions have focused exclusiv ely on South African artists and th e legacy of apartheid in the last decade or so.2 It is difficult to balance representation of contemporary African artists in these circumstances. Access to information on thes e emerging or lesser-known artists is limited. Though this situation is slowly beginning to chan ge, it still plays a major role in writing about artists living and practicing today. Contemporary African artists sometimes appropr iate canonical Western imagery for use in their work. Whether to comment on postcolonialism, the legacy of the We stern art historical canon, or contemporary and historical understandings this method of critique can be enacted in many different ways. By combining broad or sp ecific references to Africa and the West, each artist imbues appropriated images with new mean ing. The ensuing works of art reveal a great deal about conceptual and cross-cultural exchanges between Africa and the West. 2 See for example Liberated Voices: Contemporary Art from South Africa ed. Frank Herreman (New York: Museum for African Art, 1999) and Personal Affects: Power and Poetics in Contemporary South African Art 2 vols. (New York: Museum for African Art, 2004).


13 CHAPTER 2 THEORETICAL UNDERPINNINGS The contemporary work s of art that I will ex amine all share a number of features. The artists borrow elements, styles, na rratives, or images from canonical works of Western art. This borrowing can be understood in terms of pas tiche. To pastiche is to copy or imitate;1 it is a literary, artistic, musical, or architectural work that imitates the style of a previous work.2 The Grove Dictionary of Art defines pastiche as an image that self consciously borrows its style, technique or motifs from other wo rks of art yet is not a direct copy. The result can be somewhat incoherent and at times is deliber ately exaggerated and satirical, as in a caricature. The term is generally applied in a der ogatory sense, implying that the artist was unoriginal.3 The function and understanding of pastiche in the postmodern sense varies from these more general (and often negative) definitions. Although I use the te rm appropriation to refer to this borrowing, the broader notion of pastiche provides a useful foundation to begin examining these artists conceptual t echniques. In her history of pasticcio and pastiche, Ingeborg Hoesterey illustrates the quasi-anonymous definition of pastiche as neither original nor copy established the genre of pa stiche as we now know it.4 Hoesterey also notes that, art history of this [20th] century has used the notion of pastiche predominantly to mark the Other of high art. Despite its lowly status, the genr e of pastiche functions as a fi xed convention in the language of 1 The Oxford English Dictionary in Ingeborg Hoesterey, Pastiche: Cultural Memory in Art, Film, Literature (Bloomington: Indiana University Press: 2001), ix. 2 Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online 4 Feb. 2008 . 3 Pastiche, Grove Art Online Oxford University Press, 4 Feb. 2008 . 4 Ingeborg Hoesterey, Pastiche: Cultural Memory in Art, Film, Literature (Bloomington: Indiana University Press: 2001), 5-6.


14 art history, which may account for the abse nce of critical inquiry on the subject.5 Hoesterey is only able to track the word pastiche and its Italian predecessor pastic cio to the sixteenth century. However, the original pract ice of pastiche, or combining disparate stylistic features in a work of art, dates back at least to Classical an tiquity, when Roman artists emulated the style of the Greeks.6 Indeed, for much of pastiches history, it has been looked down upon as a deceptive artistic practice. In spite of this the advent of postmodernism and cri tical theory in the visual arts has elevated the genre from its lowly beginnings.7 Pastiche has recently been defined as art that imitates other art in such a way that the fact of imitation is evident.8 As an artistic genre, it encompasses a variety of meanings and manifestations as well as a host of related terms. Hoesterey attempts to distinguish between the varied forms of pastiche, stating that, The slippery quality associ ated with the pa stiche genre is in part due to the dual structural profile that was there from th e outset: imitation of a masterwork and the pt of components.9 What Hoesterey means here is th at pastiche is twofold, and thus difficult to pinpoint absolutely. Pas tiche can refer to works of art that imitate the style of other specific works or artists styles. The term can also describe those works that mix together recognizable components not originally found in concert, whether they are disparate iconographic elements or a blending of styles from different artistic movements. In much 5 Hoesterey, 1. 6 Hoesterey, 2. 7 Hoesterey, 21. 8 Richard Dyer, The Notion of Pastiche, The Aesthetics of Popular Art ed. Jostein Gripsrud (Bergen: Hyskoleforlaget AS, 2001), 77. 9 Hoesterey, 9. Hoesterey references the Italian heritage of pastiche, pasticcio which derived from the early modern Italian word, pasta. This pasta is a variant of todays pt, meaning the hodgepodge of meat, vegetables, eggs, and a variety of other possible additions (Hoesterey, 1).


15 contemporary art, but specifically those works that can be described as pastiche, The viewer of visual arts is made into a reader; unless one can decipher the intertexts, many postmodern works will offer only a banal aesthetic experienceThe visual art object moves into the arena of multiple layers of interpretation typical of the reception of a work of literature.10 In order to fully appreciate the work of a pasticheur, the viewer must recognize and comprehend the intertexuality of visual references. For pastiche to function as a concep t for cultural inquiry, one has to get the fact that the something going on is pastiche and to get what is being pastiched.Not getting the fact of pastiche or what is being pastiched may not spoil the basic understanding or pleasure of a work, but it may involve missing out on a dimension.11 Each of the works discussed below relies on the viewers visual recognition of the canonical works to which they make reference. To be successful, pastiche must logically reference something that precedes it; the cont emporary works of art discussed in this paper reference historical works of art.12 Pastiche can reference other works in many ways; it can imitate widespread characteristic s of the artistic period or imita te a precise reproduction of an autonomous work.13 A pastiche can be very similar to that which it pastiches, but pastiche may also be achieved by discrepancy, by something that is inappropriate or incongruous to the original.14 Beyond an initial recognition, the viewer is challenged to detect and decipher the intertextual fabric of a work. Pastiches, ba sed on the principle of cumulation, have always 10 Hoesterey, 27. 11 Dyer, The Notion of Pastiche, 84. 12 Dyer, The Notion of Pastiche, 85. 13 Dyer, The Notion of Pastiche, 85. 14 Richard Dyer, Pastiche (London: Routledge, 2007), 54-62.


16 abounded in ambiguity and indeterminancy.15 The works that will be analyzed assume an intellectual interrogation of th e viewer. Todays intellectual pa stiches are about culture as a process of meaning constitution; they critically reflect upon the hi storicity of aesthetic judgment and taste.16 These works turn on certain cultural si gnifiers: by using well known works recreated in specific ways, these ar tists challenge conventional unde rstandings. This selection of work also aims to critique stereotypical understa ndings and delves deeper into the intertwined histories and shared contemporary moments of Africa and the West. Pastiche is a genre that transcends the visual arts. It can be found in literature, film, and popular culture.17 However, a clear line should be drawn between the ways in which artists utilize the genre of pastiche to expand and chal lenge the understanding of viewers, compared to the commercialized reincarnations made for pr oduct sales. The appropr iation of recognizable images or elements for use in commercialized items by no means should resonate with the more lofty goals of postmodern pastiche The signifying potentia l of pastiche, here, is undermined in favor of turning a profit.18 As one of the works I will discuss makes clear, tourist mementos such as three-inch plastic David s from Florence hardly expand critical understandings of the monumental Renaissance sculpture. 15 Hoesterey, 31. 16 Hoesterey, 31. 17 Indeed, as Hoesterey notes, Pastiche structuration in the arts both high and low is a ubiquitous presence. (Hoesterey, 118). 18 Hoesterey, 41. The artistically ambitious, new type of pastiche has little or nothing in common with the vast number of copies after originals, fraudulent rip-offs, and lowly imitations that continue to be produced in the most diverse contexts. (Hoesterey, 31).


17 Semantic Interrogation Bef ore delving into individual works, it is in structive to better define some of the terms that relate to the genre of pastiche. I will ou tline the key terms here that will resurface in discussions of individual works of art, and clarify how they use pastiche. Adaptation in general refers to the transposition and modification of creative material from one genre to another.19 A familiar example is the creative transposition of a novel into a film. However, in the visual arts, adaptation can refer to a transposit ion from one medium to another. Appropriation in the visual arts emphasizes the intentional borro wing of a historical style or re lated elements; it is a sort of visual citation.20 The artist consciously borrows and u tilizes recognizable elements, while making full use of their specific implications. The use of certain elements through appropriation is deliberate, where the artist intends viewer s both to recognize a nd critically understand appropriated elements for th eir signifying content. Refiguration takes the formal elements of past styles and recasts them in a contemporary moment. Often this results in a disquieting s ynthesis of past form and present context.21 Refiguration is different from a ppropriation in that the combina tion of a historical style and present context collide in the work. Original hist orical meaning is refigured or converted into a sign of the present, often with unsettling e ffects. Simulacrum reaches beyond a borrowing or imitation of elements; instead, simulacrum substitutes the sign of the real for the real itself.22 Simulacrum is as close to a perfect copy as possible; a second version, though different, possesses the signifying qualities of the original. Montage is a sp ecific type of pastiche that 19 Hoesterey, 10. 20 Hoesterey, 10. 21 Hoesterey, 14-15. 22 Jean Baudrillard, Simulations (New York: Semiotext (e), 1983): 4, as cited in Hoesterey, 15.


18 joins together various images in a seamless manner, producing a new entity. Collage, on the other hand, combines disparate images to form a new entity; however, the original images retain their own identity.23 Parody goes beyond simple imitation in that its intention is ultimately satirical or critical. In pastiche, the original intention of the borrowed style or iconographic elements is maintained. Parody has contrasting intentions and often serves to ridicule or satirically comment upon the original borrowed style.24 In fact, pastiche is sometimes defined as blank parody.25 Imitation, by contrast, can be as considerable as the production of a copy, or as minimal as a mere resemblance. However, the word for word, image for image, or brushstroke for brushstroke imitation with the intent to deceive characterizes literary plagiarism and the visual art fake. This goes beyond the innocent imitation. As Hoesterey pu ts it, The basic stru cture of pastiche is a degree of imitation. What happens beyond this determines the artistic success of both the traditional and the postmodern pastiche.26 All of the works that will be discussed in the following pages use elements of imitation; howev er, the specific ways in which these works surpass simple imitation is the subject of this inquiry. My aim is to identify and analyze the specific types of appropriation empl oyed in the production of each work. Other terms I will take up and utilize in my discussions include re-fashion, re-dress, and re-create. I intend these words to be re ad in two ways, both with and without their hyphens. For example, refashion simply refers to the action, to remake or alter, and re23 Hoesterey, 11-13. 24 Hoesterey, 13-14. 25 Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, New Left Review 146 (1984): 5392, as cited in Richard Dyer, The Notion of Pastiche, The Aesthetics of Popular Art ed. Jostein Gripsrud (Bergen: Hyskoleforlaget AS, 2001), 78. 26 Hoesterey, 12.


19 fashion describes the dressing agai n in fashions that have been revamped, changed, or altered in some way, where the clothing lite rally takes center stage. I mean the viewer to understand both meanings simultaneously: re-fashion then beco mes the remaking of fashions, quite literally. Re-dress functions in a similar way. I use red ress to refer to its common definition, to make up for or set right, and I use the hyphenated version to refer to literally dressi ng again. This re-dress refers to clothing, dr ess, and fashion, which play impor tant roles in many of the works that will be discussed. Because all of the contem porary works of art that I will discuss utilize references to canonical works of art, I often refer to the contemporary works that have recreated familiar works. Again, I use this term in both its hyphenated form, which means to form anew in the imagination, and by extension re fers to creating a new a nd unique work of art. I also utilize recreated in its un-hyphenated form, which mean s to give new life or freshness to, here referring back to the original work of art that inspired the contemporary work in question.27 Note also that I use the words recognizab le and familiar to refer to different levels of recognition. If somethi ng is recognizable, I assume vi ewers can specifically place the visual reference. If something is merely familiar, I assume that viewers have come into contact with the image, though may not be able to imme diately conjure its hist ory or importance. The variety of terms discussed here will reflect the ra nge of approaches the artists have utilized in their works of appropriate d canonical Western art. The Canon Whether the term is applied to art history, lite rature, film, or religi on, a canon refers to the accepted or official version, ofte n made up of a corpus of works that fit a particular criteria, admitting them to an official status. I believe that it is necessary to clarify how I am utilizing 27 Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online 26 Jan. 2008 .


20 the canon of Western art history since I invoke it throughout this pa per. The notion of this canon, no matter how problematic, is useful in that it pr ovides a selection of works of art that are familiar. It also represents the power that offi cial art history continues to exert. I am not interested here in breaking down or interrogating the notion, definition, limits or bounds of the canon. Instead, I am exploring how contemporary African artists respond to or incorporate canonical works of Western art in their own work. It is important to recognize that the idea of a canon still merits a place in the study of art history, and that a selection of im ages are readily recognizable to a large number of viewers. The artists who make use of canonical works of art do so in part because of these images familiarity. They capitalize on this familiarity to capture the attention of viewers. All of the artists have changed or altered some aspect of the original works. These differences are the most important, as they make critical comment on the contemporary moment. By utilizing canonical works of art, these artists often engage with supposed hi storical truths and difficult contemporary understandings inherent to their nuanced critiques. The Problematics of Classifying Artists I have selected a num ber of contemporary Af rican artists who utilize elements of the Western canon of art history in th eir works of art. The artists included are African: they were born on the continent or their families are from Africa. Sometimes, though, the designation of African artist is used to connote a certain preoccupation or dominant theme surrounding the continent in their work. The label can denote arti sts with a range of ties to the continent: some artists were born, live, and work in Africa, such as South African artists Wim Botha and the team of two artists that comprise St rangelove. Others were born in Af rica, but subsequently moved to the West where they currently live and work, such as South African artist Johannes Phokela and Sudanese artist Hassan Musa. St ill others have more complicat ed histories: Yinka Shonibare,


21 MBE, was born in London, raised in Lagos, Nigeri a, and returned to the UK for art school and has remained there ever since. To a certain extent, any efforts to classify artists are problematic, but they can sometimes provide a necessary referent. To be classi fied as African can open doors to the many exhibitions that are loosely ba sed on these geographic ties. Inde ed, numerous exhibitions have been mounted with this geographic loca tion as theme in mind: for example, Africa Remix, Authentic/Ex-Centric and Looking Both Ways However, the classification can limit the ways in which artists works are perceived and understood. Hassan Musa states, Personally as an artist born in Africa, but with no urge to bear the burden of the Afri can artist, I know that the only opportunities open to me to present my work in public outside Africa are of the ethnic type, where people assign to me the role of the othe r African in places designed for the kind of seasonal ritual where a certain kind of Africa is in favour.28 Here, Musas reference to a seasonal ritual may be a direct reference to this sort of exhib ition. In a critique of Africa Remix, art historian Sylvester Ogbechie interrogate s the implications of generating exhibitions around this tenuous label, African art history opera tes in a field where most of its scholarship occurs on the pages of exhibition catalogs. What kinds of knowledge do curators create about Africa?29 Interestingly, other artists that are surely African have managed to transcend the sometimes-confining label. The South African artist William Kentridge, who has enjoyed considerable success in the internat ional art scene, is generally not presented as an African artist. 28 David Elliott, Africa, Exhibitions and Fears of the Dark, in Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent ed. Simon Njami (Hatje Cantz Publishers, 2005), 27. 29 Sylvester Ogbechie, POV: Contempor ary African Art: REPLY, 21 March 2005, H-AfrArts Posting, 16 Feb. 2008 .


22 Others are able to embody a series of differe nt labels, depending on the situation and the necessity of each. Shonibare, for example, is ofte n included in continent-focused exhibitions as an African artist. However, it was his Britishness that enabled him to be considered for Britains annual Turner Prize, for the Turner Prize is an award for British ar tists, and also artists working in Britain.30 In truth, labels should not matter. They are a shorthand way of referencing a decidedly more complex and nuanced idea: in this case, the idea of identity. Johannes Phokela is one artist who has spoken to this sort of classification: All artists, regardless of co lour, regard themselves as people who are making art. And thats prior to any form of identity. It always comes across as a puzzle to me when notions of colour, race, ge nder, come into it, because I think they have nothing to do with the work. Once you have the work it doesnt really matter who produced it. What counts is the quality. But unfortunately, th e contemporary international art scene has this tendency to dwell on the b ackground of the artist.31 Particularly problematic is when this preoccupation implies that African artists are only self-taught, or non-educated.32 Anthropologist Allen F. Roberts comments directly upon Phokelas and Shonibares precarious positions: A well-known conundrum mark s the two mens work, for each wishes to transcend the ghettoizing implicit in the phrase African artist, while both engage the politics of being just that, especially as they live as persons of African descent in Europe.33 Indeed, in her examination of Shonibares work, Nancy Hynes asks, What is African ? What is European? 30 Claire Bishop, Preface, in Virginia Button, The Turner Prize (London: Tate Publishing, 2005), 10. 31 Johannes Phokela, interviewed by Tracy Murinik, in Personal Affects: Power and Poetics in Contemporary South African Art 2 vols. (New York: Museum for African Art, 2004), vol. 1, 117. 32 See Two Conversations: Jean Pigozzi & Andre Megnin, in African Art Now: Masterpieces from the Jean Pigozzi Collection (London: Merrell, 2005), 11. 33 Allen F. Roberts, Le Muse Cannibale, African Arts 36:4 (2003): 11.


23 Who creates and consumes these identities?34 Many artists resist th e implications of any stereotypical understandi ng of this classification. As curator Bruce Haines notes, Phokela in many ways follows a lineage of black artists who have refused to be deterred and influenced by the reversed stereotyping of black culture in Europe, which Rasheed Araeen calls positive stereotyping or benevolenceP hokela continually conveys a sens e of resistance to the coffee table compendiums of African art. His complex historical reinte rpretations do not lend themselves to easy categorization.35 Musa, too, resists the often limiting connotations accompanying these labels: African art is an en ormous ethical misunderstanding, which I try to take advantage of without aggravating it; but th is leaves me with only a narrow margin for maneuverIt is a situation which is not lack ing in ambivalence, and which gives me the impression of being a hostage to this strange ma chine which integrates African-born artists into the world of art, while at the same time shunting them off into a category apart.36 These artists use their conceptually rich work to complicate easy understandings of Europe or Africa. The works that I will examine appropriate and re-motiv ate certain images originating in the Western canon of art history to make co mment on particular histories th at still reverberate today. 34 Nancy Hynes, Yinka Shonibare: Addressing the Wandering Mind, Unpacking Europe: Towards a Critical Reading eds. Salah Hassan and Iftikhar Dadi (Rotterdam: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, 2001), 396. 35 Bruce Haines, Changing The Title, in Unpacking Europe: Towards a Critical Reading (Rotterdam: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, 2001), 382. 36 Elliott, 27.


24 CHAPTER 3 YINKA SHONIBARE, MBE In 2001, Jean-Honor Fragonards famous eighteenth-century French painting, The Sw ing (1767) was re-imagined by Nigerian/British artist Yinka Shonibare, MBE (F igures 1 and 2). The original painting depicts a seemi ngly carefree aristocra tic woman at the height of her swing. Her red cushioned swing is suspended by rope to a gnarled but flora-covered branch of an old tree set in a flourishing Rococo garden. She is pushed by her much older cleric husband but gazes down demurely at her young lover, hidden in the bushe s in the left foregr ound. The woman kicks her delicate high-heeled shoe off at her lover, who ge ts a peek up the many layers of her sumptuous pink silk gown, trimmed with lace. The statues that decorate the garden underscore the taboo yet tantalizing nature of this scene. The cupid seen in profile on the far left puts his index finger to his lips, in a gesture of quieting any unwanted interruptions. Two putti embrace in the center background and peer at this love triangle. Often cited as emblema tic of the frivolity, eroticism, and decadence of the Rococo, Fragonards The Swing centers on this elicit act and illustrates a playful, sexually-charged scene. Shonibares adaptation transforms this oil painting into a th ree-dimensional installation, complete with a life-size mannequin, rope, fake folia ge, and with the help of some fishing line, a high-heeled shoe suspended in mid-air. He re fashions the female fi gures luxurious frock, however, and tailors it out of African wax-prin t fabric. Shonibares re-imagined leading lady appears without her lover, her husband, or her head, but dependent on installation, can now be viewed in the round. Some viewers readily recogni ze the scene being parodied, while others will note only the historical period im plied by the ladys lavish dress. Both types of viewers, though, will note the incongruity of portraying this figur e in such fabrics. In doing this, Shonibare


25 accomplishes several things; but first, the fabr ics themselves beguile the eye and seduce the viewer, while his criticisms lie waiting, just below the surface. Shonibare situates his works of art in the space between Africa a nd Europe, between the colonial past and postcolonial present. His contemporary art installations frequently utilize headless tan mannequins dressed in period costume, tailored in A frican wax-print fabric. Often his works parody recognizable scenes from canonical works in art history. Although Shonibare works in many media, including pain ting, sculpture, photography, and video, only his eighteenth-century French installation re-crea tions will be addressed here. In interviews, Shonibare has stressed the enormous economic disparities between the contemporary developing world and the wealthy developed West, as well as their historical connection through colonialism.1 His works are often interpreted as an attempt to highlight the truth behind the immense wealth of Europeans, at the cost of the subjugated developing world, from the colonial period continuing through to today. Shonibare hims elf is particularly well-placed to comment on these issues, as he proclaims his own identity as bi-cultura l and is concerned with the complicating of pure national identity.2 Shonibare was born in London in 1962 but spent the majority of his formative years in an upper-middle class home in Lagos, Nigeria. He re turned to the UK for art school and has lived there since his late teen years. Now as an MB E, or Member of the British Empire, Shonibare takes this honor and official rec ognition as his platform; he has even added the suffix to his name officially.3 His works often obliquely refer to the rela tionship of British heritage to the wealth 1 Yinka Shonibare, MBE: Jardin dAmour (Paris: Muse du quai Branly, 2007), 12. 2 Give & Take Conversations, Art Journal 61:2 (2002): 82. 3 Yinka Shonibare, MBE: Jardin dAmour 22.


26 garnered through trade, slavery, and colonialism. He also questions the notion of Europeanness and authenticity. The hist ories of the developed and deve loping worlds are inextricably linked, and Shonibares work hinges on a somewhat unusual art material which underscores this connection: African wax-print fabric. These bri ghtly colored, busily-patte rned cloths have now become his trademark and can easily be recognized at a moments notice. African Wax-Print Fabrics Wax-print f abric often looks African to uns uspecting viewers. It is the manufactured printed fabric made popular in West Africa in th e late nineteenth century as a cheap, imported alternative to locally woven cloths. Wax-print has since gain ed popularity throughout much of the continent and is also wo rn to proclaim black prid e outside of the continent.4 Although these fabrics visually signify Africa, they are not indigenous to the continent. Wax-print fabrics originated on the Indone sian island of Java around the sixteenth century.5 The term batik signifies both the process of dying textiles and the fabric itself. These fabrics are dyed with the wax-resist technique, in which hot liquid wax is applied to areas of the un-dyed fabric. When the layer of wax hardens on the surface of the cloth, the wax protects the fabric and effectively resists the colored dye when the fabric is submerged in a vat of dye. These wax-protected areas maintain the origin al color of the textile leaving the desired contrasting design.6 Sometimes, the wax-resist cracks and allo ws the dye to penetrate the cloth in unwanted areas, creating an irregular veining pattern.7 The original Javanese batiks were 4 Nancy Hynes and John Picton, Yinka Shonibare, African Arts 34:3 (2001): 60. 5 Maria Wro ska-Friend, Javanese Batik: The Art of Wax Design, Batik: 75 Selected Masterpieces (Kln: Galeries Smend, 2006), 46. 6 Wro ska-Friend, 46. 7 Wro ska-Friend, 47.


27 created with arduous control by a pplying the wax-resist by hand, producing textiles that are each distinctive creations. The aim in Javanese batik is strong control in both drawing and design, and when this random veining effect occurs, it is gene rally treated as a technical mistake. However, this mistake has come to be known as a defini ng feature of the batik process in the West, and subsequently features in the manufactured ba tik fabrics. The industrialized process which mimics Javanese batik does not use the wax-print resistdye technique at all. Instead, fabrics are mechanically printed by industrial rollers with patterns and designs inspired by the original batik process. The veining pattern is a popular feature in the European fabrics made for export to West Africa and features on all industr ialized wax-print fabrics. European-manufactured cloth intended for sale in Africa has a long history. According to art historian Christopher B. Steiner, European textiles have been traded in West Africa since at least the fifteenth century.8 In the seventeenth century, Euro pean manufacturers and Indian producers competed for market control in im ported textiles. At this time, British linen manufacturers began accomm odating African textile demands, responding both to local aesthetics and preferences. However, the wax-print fabrics in question were first brought to Europe by the Dutch in the late sixteenth centu ry. The British began ma rketing these batiks to West Africans in the 1820s. In the 1880s, the Du tch started manufacturi ng their own wax-print cloth for export to their colonies. The manufactur ed textiles failed to sell in Indonesia, where craftsmanship and distinctive individual qualities were highly prized. Therefore, the main export destination became the African colonies. Bri tish manufacturers quickly responded to this competition by developing their own designs, dyes techniques, and equipment to produce an 8 Christopher B. Steiner, Another Imag e of Africa: Toward and Ethnohistory of European Cloth Marketed in West Africa, 1873-1960, Ethnohistory 32:2 (1985): 92.


28 industrialized version of Indonesi an wax stamping to be sold in English-ruled West Africa.9 These new mechanical printing techniques transf ormed the original hand-printed Indonesian wax-resist textiles into a ma ss-produced European commodity. Europeans have continued to export these textiles to West Africa through the present; howev er, an important shift in production occurred in the 1960s. Following independence movements, factories on the continent began producing manufact ured textiles, borrowing techniques from Dutch and English manufacturers.10 These wax-print fabrics have been widely embraced by Africans on the continent as well as by others seeking a connection to Africa. In Shonibares explan ation, African fabric signifies African identity, rather like American jeans (Levis) are an in dicator of trendy youth cultureIn Brixton, African fabric is worn with pride amongs t radical or cool youth. It manifests itself as a fashion accessory with black British women in the head wrap form, and it can also be found worn by Africans away from the home country. It becomes an aesthetic of defiance, an aesthetic of reassurance, a way of holding on to ones iden tity in a culture presumed foreign or different. African fabric, exotica if you like, is a colonial construction. To the Western eye this excessive patterning (difference) carries with it codes of African nationalism; that has become its contemporary use, a kind of modern African exoticism.11 Writer and critic Kobena Mercer has remarked on the ultimately ambiguous use of this fabric, reminding viewers of its connotation on the continent: in Africa it has the allure of impor ted goods, in Europe it evokes exotica.12 9 Leslie W. Rabine, The Global Circulation of African Fashion (Oxford: Berg, 2002), 139. 10 Steiner, 92. 11 Okwui Enwezor, Tricking the Mind : The Work of Yinka Shonibare, Yinka Shonibare: Dressing Down (Birmingham, UK: Ikon Gallery, 1999), 9. 12 Kobena Mercer, Art that is Ethnic in Inverted Commas: On Yinka Shonibare, Frieze 25 (1995): 38-41.


29 Although this cloth may signify Africa outside of th e continent, its roots are originally Javanese, and the cloth plays as much a part of British and Dutch colonial history as African. These fabrics are a product and a construction of the colonial en counter and continue to signify difference to Western viewers. Reoccurring Motifs Shonibare utilizes a num ber of reoccurring mo tifs throughout his works. One element that appears regularly in Shonibares work is his use of wax-print fabric. He purchases the fabric for his installations at Brixton mark et in London, which adds another layer of complexity to this already hybrid African cloth.13 He also favors designs that include recognizable Western images, such as televisions, electric fans, spar k plugs, automobiles, and even pirated designer labels.14 The incorporation of Western technologies and developments is sometimes jarring to Western viewers, who expect the fabrics to exist only in the ethnographic present. The appearance of such images helps break down st ereotypical notions of autonomous cultures and timeless, unchanging societies. In Shonibares words, The id ea that there is some kind of dichotomy between Africa and Europebetween the exotic other and the civilized European, if you likeI think is completely simplistic. So Im interested in exploring the mythology of these two so-called separate spheres, and in creating an overlap of complexities.15 13 Suzanne Landau, Yinka Shonib ares Garden of Pleasure, Yinka Shonibare: Double Dress (Jerusalem, The Israel Museum, 2002), 9. 14 Give & Take Conversations, 84. For example, a famili ar Chanel label can be seen on heroines dress in The Swing (after Fragonard) spark plugs on the breeches of the male figure in Mr. and Mrs. Andrews without their Heads and electric fans adorn Shonibares Leisure Lady who is led by pug-nosed dogs. 15 Yinka Shonibare: Of Hedonism, Masquerade, Carnivalesque and Power, a Conversation with Okwui Enwezor, Looking Both Ways: Art of the Contemporary African Diaspora, ed. Laurie Ann Farrell (New York: Museum for African Art, 2003), 163.


30 The artists use of wax-print fabrics is undeni ably the most salient feature of many of his works. Shonibares re-dressing of eighteenth-century fashions in wax-print can seem quite out of place to Western eyes, as viewers are faced with fabrics that seem incongruous to the costumes they compose This realization reveals the considerable implications of fabric, dress, and fashion. Though generally thought of as feminine and he nce lite subject matte r, dress can and has played significant roles in defining contemporar y assertions, understandings, and criticisms. In truth, dress and fashion are never simply innocent or devoid of implication. Every choice, every fabric, every style has connotations that reflect economics, political status, and personal identity. Dress is a major theme in S honibares work. His impeccably tailored period costumes re-made in wax-print fabrics are the main focus of his installations and are also a thread that links many of his works together. He capitalizes on the otherness of wax-print fabric and prompts viewers to question why this cloth looks so out of place tailored into period costume. The perceived absurdity draws viewers ev er closer to the realiz ation that perhaps the two worlds Shonibare collides in his installation are not so distant or distinct after all. Shonibares parody of eighteenth-century Fren ch Rococo painting is notable. From the mid-eighteenth century to the la te-nineteenth century, the rise of the We stern bourgeoisie was enabled largely by growing economic successes. Th ese financial successes were garnered partly through investments in the slave trade, and partly through the exploitation of both the labor and resources of their own urban, industr ialized poor and colonized peoples.16 The societies that Shonibare parodies benefited from this greatly expanding economy. For the first time, the bourgeoisie could obtain some of the status symbols of the ar istocracy, such as clothing. Clothing historically has been a prime signifier of social status and as Shonibare demonstrates, 16 Jean Fisher, The Outsider Within: Shonibares Dandy and the Parasitic Economy of Exchange, Yinka Shonibare: Double Dress (Jerusalem: The Israel Museum, 2002), 30.


31 clothing becomes his prime signifier in this web of inter-connec tivity, reliance, and dependence, both historically and in our ow n contemporary moment. Shonibare makes conscious use of these fabrics with their complex history, hybrid nature, and contemporary significance in mind. He questions stereotypes and the concept (or construc t) of an autonomous African or European authenticity through his collision of European period costume tailored from these fabrics. Another prominent element of Shonibares wo rks is his use of headless mannequins. The most convincing inspiration for Shonibares behe adings is the guillotine made famous through its liberal use during the French Revolution. Shonibare s newest installation, commissioned by the Muse du Quai Branly in Paris for the summer 2007 exhibition, Jardin dAmour features three scenes from Fragonards Progress of Love series (Figures 3). Fragonard painted the series celebrating youthful courtship for Louis XVs mistress, Mada me du Barry, between 1770 and 1773. Madame du Barry herself lost her head to the guillotine, and this conn ection adds layers of significance to the work.17 Eighteenth-century French aristocrats paid the ultimate price for their luxury and frivolity, and by using headless manne quins, Shonibare makes a darkly humoristic aperu to the French Revolutions Reign of Terror.18 Some critics have understood this literal beheading as the metaphoric beheading of power.19 Though his works often seem to celebrate a life of leisure on the surface, th e removal of the figures heads gives his re-imagined scenes a 17 See Joseph Baillio, Un Portrait de Zamor, Page Bengalais de Madame Du Barry, Gazette des Beaux-Arts 140 (2002): 233-42. Interestingly, Madame du Barrys own servant testified against her at the trial that sent her to the guillotine. The servant, Louis Benoist Zamor was a native of Bengal, but has been referred to as negre in literature throughout the past two centuries. Regardless of specific heritage, Zamor was decidedly considered other in eighteenth-century French discourse. Th is ironic twist adds yet another layer to Shonibares use of the headless mannequin in this series. 18 Jaap Guldemond and Gabriele Mackert, To Entertain an d Provoke: Western Influences in the Work of Yinka Shonibare, Yinka Shonibare: Double Dutch (Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 2004), 38. 19 Yinka Shonibare: Of Hedonism, Masquerade, Carnivalesque and Power, a Conversation with Okwui Enwezor, 166.


32 biting twist. In a sense, the beheading can be seen as an equalizing force. Speaking to this aspect of his works, Shonibare explains, the slight warning in my work is that you can have all this luxury, but you will have it at the expense of your head. There is a danger, you run a risk.20 Shonibare simultaneously celebrates visual decadence and critiques these frivolous lifestyles as well as the monies that make su ch extravagance possible. The viewer, too, is implicated in this critique, taking pleasure from the visual splendor. Shonibare explains how his works function: At first, I alwa ys bring people in. From the st art when you enter you begin to enjoy yourself; its very exciting, its very bright and engaging and seducing, and then the provocation comes. Then you have to face it and deal with it.21 The light-hearted scenes and lavish costumes of bright waxprint fabrics are meant to enthra ll the viewer visually, and the beheading, then, serves to point to the underlying critiques of historical and continued economic disparities between the developed West and the developing world. And in beheading these characters from canoni cal works of Western ar t, these individuals are depersonalized.22 No longer individuals, the headless mannequins become signifiers of the decadent culture they represent. The skin colo r, too, helps to destabilize any one reading of Shonibares mannequins. Most commercial mannequi ns are stark, white figures clad in the newest fashions adorning clot hing store display windows. Shonibare has deliberately chosen an ambiguously tan and indeterminate skin tone for his mannequins.23 The figures could be of any ethnicity, and the artist uses this strategy to a void simplistic conclusions about identity and race. 20 Yinka Shonibare, MBE: Jardin damour 17. 21 Yinka Shonibare, MBE: Jardin damour 25. 22 Nancy Hynes and John Picton, Yinka Shonibare, African Arts 34:3 (2001): 63. 23 See video and photo installation Odile and Odette 2005. In these works, Shonibare uses one black ballerina and one white ballerina dancing the famous roles of Swan Lake as reflections of each other in a mirror. He deliberately contrasts these ballerinas skin tones, whereas his mannequins are always shown as an ambiguous tan color,


33 Parodied Canonical Works In m any of Shonibares works, he parodies recognizable canonical works of the Western art historical tradition. Recall his The Swing (after Fragonard) where the heroine of the painting is transformed into a life-size headless mannequin at the height of her swing (Figure 2). The mannequin still dons period costume, but Shoniba re has meticulously re-fashioned it in his African wax-print fabric. The wo rks of Western visual art that Shonibare chooses to re-create often center around notions of decadence, luxury, and extreme wealth made possible by the subjugation of Africans and other (future) colonial subjects. Hi s eighteenth-century appropriated works serve as case in point. In discussing his French Rococo re-creations the artist has drawn parallels between the luxurious Rococo lifestyle and our contempor ary moment, in which the developing world hungers for the wealth of the developed West.24 Shonibare states, what I am really doing is showing very wealthy Europeans in very wealth y clothes, but because I changed their clothes into African textiles, I give an indication that the luxury that th ey enjoy, the labour of the making of the clothes is supplied by others who are le ss fortunate [It] is a way to bring the two together, using the eighteenth century as a me taphor, although these thi ngs are actually here now.25 The period just preceding the French Revolu tion was characterized by extreme affluence and decadence among the aristocracy. The reign of Louis XV, as well as his successor, Louis XVI, and the Rococo palace of Versailles embody this notion of excess. This extravagant era came to an abrupt halt with the French Revolu tion in 1789, when the lower classes rose up and avoiding easy conclusions about identity and race. Yinka Shonibare, MBE, Artist lectur e on occasion of exhibition opening, Odile and Odette ACA Gallery, SCAD, Atlanta, 10 Jan. 2008. 24 Yinka Shonibare, MBE: Jardin damour 12. 25 Yinka Shonibare, MBE: Jardin damour 12.


34 rebelled against the aristocratic class. Many prom inent aristocrats of the Rococo era lost their heads to the guillotine. Shonibare s use of Rococo paintings and his clever beheading of the characters can serve as a grim warning to those who benefit unduly and as a biting critique of the economic disparities between the global upper and lower classes. His works are more than visually appealin g; Shonibares works are extremely alluring. They have an undeniable playfulness about them, a joie de vivre. These inanimate mannequins court the viewer with their brightly colore d wax-print period costumes, and their often lighthearted postures taken from familiar Western works entertai n passing viewers. Shonibares installations can provide astute vi ewers with a sort of nostalgic comfort. Shonibare explains, As an artist, it remains always important for me that the audience can engage both intellectually and aesthetically with the work of art, so that the enjoyment of the work is very much part of the process; and the poetic side of it, i.e. the overl apping of different things, is very much at the essence of the work.26 The cloth may seem out of place, but the lavish costumes still beguile the eye and allow the viewer to linger with pleas ure on these life-size installations. The critique, then, comes with the beheading of these familiar characters. Viewers are forced to grapple with this violent suggestion, as well as its brutal e qualizing effect. Shonibares installations may be playful a nd visually flirtatious, but they are also ambiguous. The artist utilizes many layers of cr itique: he appropriates familiar canonical works of art, but his re-fashioning of familiar scenes verges on parody. Shonibares use of conceptually complex wax-print fabrics adds a further critic al layer, as do his ambiguously tan, beheaded mannequins. By using stereotypical elements of both Africa and the West, Shonibare suggests an 26 Yinka Shonibare, MBE: Jardin damour 26.


35 ironic interdependency, not perceptible on the su rface of things, only accessible through deeper analysis. Multivalent Readings of Fragonard In the past several years, Shonibare has utilized many well known European works of art for his installations. But how m uch understanding of the original works of art can be assumed? Is only a generic familiarity necessary, or do shifti ng meanings of the original work affect the viewers understanding of these re-creations? To explore this question, Shonibares works after Fragonards Progress of Love will be interrogated. Viewers understandings of the original canonical works of art can affect the meanings of Shonibares re-imaginings. Some assumptions of the Rococo peri od will be illustrated, in order to understand how Shonibares re-creations func tion for the general viewer who recognizes the link between the contemporary inst allations and the original ei ghteenth-century paintings. Art historian Mary Sheriff provides a historical understanding of the attitudes towards the Rococo period throughout the centuries, By 1792 Rococo paintings, already condemned as mannered luxury products, were taken as symbolic of the oppressive system being crushed by the revolution.27 She explains that this rejection of Roco co coincided with a decline in the market and shifting ideologies brought to the fore during the formation of the First Republic of France. The Rococo style is often tr eated as synonymous with the ancien rgime which was thought of as tyrannical, av aricious, and oppressive to supporters of the Revolution.28 To be proRepublican France and decidedly against the ancien rgime meant abandoning and at times even condemning much of the formerly popular Roco co. By 1820, Sheriff contends, Fragonard was 27 Mary D. Sherriff, Fragonard: Art and Eroticism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 1. 28 Sheriff, 7.


36 considered a painter of frivolous subjects, of love scenes la mode.29 Critics believed his talent was wasted on licentious subjects, rather than uplifted by the higher genres. In short, Rococo was remembered as a disappointment of French painting, with Fragonard as its standard-bearer.30 The Rococo period that flourished with the re ign of Louis XV has often been considered little more than insignificant. This attitude is perpetuated in art history survey books, where the Rococo is afforded little attention and sometimes is even presented as the dying breaths of the Baroque: a degeneration of previ ously virile forms, in Sheri ffs abbreviation of generalist literature. In fact, the term roc oco is sometimes generalized and used as the late phases of all periods and styles.31 The Rococo is often described as being frivolous, coquettish, decorative, lighthearted, and vacant of all higher meaning, as compared to its predecessor the Baroque and its successor the Neoclassical.32 General assessments of the peri od at large, and Fragonard in particular, still conform to this one-dimensional reading of the Rococo style. Returning to Shonibares re-imaginings of Fr agonards Rococo works, then, is this the meaning Shonibare means to harness? The superficial understanding of Fragonard, as just outlined, does seem to complement Shonibares concerns: the excess and uneven distribution of wealth of the ancien rgime can critically mirror the same dispar ity between the contemporary developed and developing worlds. Shonibares first foray into the French Rococo was in 2001, with his reinvention of Fragonards The Swing Both Fragonards original painting and Shonibares installation have 29 Sheriff, 3. 30 Sheriff, 4. 31 Sheriff, 27. 32 Sheriff, 28.


37 already been discussed, but it is instructive to take special note of Shonibares variations. Fragonards painting is self-cont ained; the audience is privy to the entire scene but plays no active role. Shonibare, however, brings this scen e to life, and places the viewer in the optimal position: the viewer becomes the target for the heroines coquettish shoe toss. By excluding the young womans older husband as well as her yo ung lover, Shonibare charges the seemingly innocent eighteenth-century scene with c ontemporary notions of the gaze and voyeurism.33 Here Shonibare enables the viewer to partake in this illic it act, but only self consciously so. In enabling the viewers peek up the mannequins skir t, does Shonibare assume a male gaze? Or perhaps he means to force the audience into an uncomfortable position as unflinchingly voyeuristic, where issues of gender and sexuality take center stage. However, his decapitation of the character invites ambiguity into the scene: she can no longer watch us, as we watch her. Shonibares re-dressing of the heroine in Afr ican wax-print fabrics is inescapable; her dress suddenly becomes an anomaly, not just an item of recognizable, though forgettable, period dress. The figure, too, becomes ir onically codified: the cut and style of the dress is decidedly eighteenth-century European, but the material signifies a very distant realitythat of Africa. Most often this wax-print fabric is not associated with a sp ecific location; it becomes a generalized and detemporalized signifier of th e continent of Africa, nothing more, even though the actual fabrics are contemporaneous with th e present day. The fabric, as has already been articulated, challenges the complex notion of authenticity. The juxtaposition between high Western (eighteenth-century) subject matter and ma ss-produced (contemporar y) African textiles reveals how Shonibare is playing with symbols, meaning, and implicatio n. He utilizes cultural 33 Virignia Button, The Turner Prize (London: Tate Publishing, 2005), 208.


38 resonances that seem pointedly anachronist ic, though at the same time are jarringly contemporary, leaving viewers to contemplate and make sense of this temporal disjunction. Shonibares second venture into the oe uvre of Fragonard was his exhibition, Jardin dAmour (2007) which featured an indoor labyrinth with three groups of lovers (Figures 3-5). The installations were inspired by Fr agonards paintings from the series, The Progress of Love (Figures 6-9). The title seems to have been applied to Fragonards work s after this commissioned series was rejected by Madame du Barry upon completion in 1773. The series was replaced by Neoclassical artist Joseph Marie-Viens series of the same title. The title, Progress implies a narrative; Fragonards canvases, how ever, seem to show four sets of young lovers, instead of two lovers followed through four scenes. The Progress has been the subject of many commentaries over the centuries; perhaps the most convincing explanation is that there is no narrative at all, just paradigmatic aspects of the game of love, which underscores the misnomer of the title.34 This lack of narrative or progr ess epitomizes much of the Rococo era. Aristocrats were able to pursue love endlessly, as lovers were substitutable, repeatable entities, and the game was as infinitely renewable as aristocratic fashion.35 Fragonards cycle has no beginning and no end, but perpetual temporality. Th e visual inconsistencies in th e depiction of young lovers hair colors, coiffures, facial features, and costumes ma y also parallel their inconstant nature in the game of love. The flirtatious manner of Fra gonards paintings points to an element of irresponsibility that aristocrats were able to enjoy. Fragonards four canvases are known today as The Pursuit, The Meeting, The Lover Crowned, and The Love Letters (Figures 6-9). Each scene depict s a pair of lovers in luscious 34 Sheriff, 68. 35 Lynne Kirby, Fragonards The Pursuit of Love, Rutgers Art Review (1982): 78.


39 Rococo gardens partaking in different activities associated with courtship. Shonibare has recreated three of these scenes of lovers in his installation: The Pursuit, The Crowning, after Fragonards The Lover Crowned, and The Confession, after Fragonards The Love Letters ; he omits The Meeting (Figures 3-5). Shonibare depicts only the two main ch aracters of each scene, excluding such figures as the young gi rls friends from the first, the artist from the second, and the spaniel from the third. Typically, the lovers all lose their heads and wear sumptuous clothing tailored of wax-print fabric. If one chooses to delve below the surface of these Rococo works, as contemporary feminist art historians have done, Shoniba res use of Fragonard takes on new and varied meanings. By reassessing Fragonards works, S honibares use of the seemingly unproblematic lite Rococo is called into question. Art historian Lynne Kirby focu ses her analysis of Fr agonards series on the features that became unacceptable to both the waning ancien rgime and the bourgeoisie but are still consistently treated as devoid of meaning. She poi nts to details in which Fragonard expresses an element of resi stance to authority, through the means of (female) sexuality.36 Although Rococo art is often dismissed as frivolous artifice, in reality, notorious aspects of Rococo works of art became unacceptable as they challenged figures of authority. Kirby argues that the Rococo style in genera l celebrated the display of women. Males are placed at the edge of pictoral activity and function as supporting details to the exhibiting of pretty young women.37 Compositionally, Fragonards series provides a case in point. The young women in each scene are well lit and placed at the cente r of each painting. For example, in The Pursuit Fragonard has arranged three young women in a pyramid-shape composition, with the main character at the 36 Kirby, 63. 37 Kirby, 64.


40 apex (Figure 6). Her arms are thrown wide in surprise at seeing her suitor, and she garners the most visual power. Shonibares installations, on th e other hand, appear to treat the male and female figures more equally. In the contem porary artists rendition of The Pursuit the young womans friends are omitted, leaving the scene to her and her suitor (Figure 3). Her suitor motions to her from behind the bushes, and the young woman is surprised into a dramatic posture. Even if the young woman is still the center of attention, by leavi ng out other compositional elements, Shonibares installations place more emphasis on the dynamics of the couple. In addition, Kirby argues that certain areas of the female body are considered erotically charged, and deployment of this power gives women the upper hand.38 Here, Fragonard focuses on these sexually-charged extremities: the feet, the hands, the head and neck, as well as the breasts. By placing the young women in postures that throw out these attributes for the viewer to appreciate, women garner more sexual power. Ar ms are spread wide and chests are thrust forward, delicate feet peak out from beneath fold s of skirts, and long, pearly necks are exposed and admired. The female body does take center stage in Fragonards work. The young women are the most active, the more el evated, the central characters. Th e period clothing, too, plays an important part in highlighting these areas: lacy collars draw attention to the graceful necks and aptly placed bows and flower s accentuate plunging necklines.39 In Shonibares re-creations, however, the wo mens bodies are eclipsed by his use of waxprint tailored garments. The bright, colorful fabrics delight and entice th e eye, and overshadow the mannequins visual presence. Especially sinc e the mannequins are headless, Westerners are 38 Kirby, 65. 39 Kirby, 65.


41 conditioned to overlook the finer details of these du mmies. What is important to such a consumer culture, instead, is what they di splay for visual consumption. Shonibares re-imaginings spotlight the wax-print period costumes and offer them up to be visually consumed, at the expense of the characters represented. Intriguingly, the owners of these female bodies on display never acknowledge the voyeurs gaze: the young women in each of Fragonards scenes never look b ack to recognize that she is being viewed. She is playful, coquettish, and ul timately, self-serving. Kirby argues here that there is an erotic charge in this lack of vi sual recognition, which mirrors a familiar eighteenthcentury literary trope in which aristocratic women faint in or der to enjoy sex without taking conscious responsibility for it.40 The importance here is the pu rpose of sex: for eighteenthcentury aristocrats, sexual pr actices had little to do with re productive sex and everything to do with pleasure. Marriage was a lega l contract that concer ned itself with the transferal of estates, properties, privileges, and family names.41 One found sexual pleasure in extra-marital affairs, not with ones spouse. This viewpoint was rejected by bourgeoisie and Enlightenment thinkers alike, where sex was only supposedly concerned with procreation. Therefore, one unacceptable aspect of Fragonards Progress of Love was the theme of sexual pleasure, and by extension the resistance to the procreative demands.42 Fragonards series serves no higher endno didactic, moral functionthan its playful, decorative self.43 But that does not mean his works are devoid of content, quite the opposite: their delight in excess, narrative ambiguity, and pleasure all characterize the Rococo era and set it apar t from its predecessors and successors. 40 Kirby, 68-69. 41 Carol Duncan, Happy Mothers and Other New Ideas in French Art, Art Bulletin (1973): 572. 42 Kirby, 70. 43 Kirby, 78.


42 The fact that the women in Fragonards scenes all refuse the gazes of their suitors reflects the typical features of coquette rie: insincerity, infidelity, a nd equivocation. Coquettes play at signifying one thing and meaning another, and the lack of eye contact esta blishes this game of veiled intentions.44 Also, coquettes maintain power: the girl may be pursued and visually dominated, but as Kirby argues, she is never really caught. W ho then holds the power? This ambiguity in gender relations and of gendered power is also unacceptable to bourgeois and Enlightenment thinkers. Fragonards are not im ages of hetero-normative authority, which was sought at the time of painting. Females here hold the power to distract male energy from more productive, useful investments to their own passing whims and fancies.45 Conversely, the role of the gaze is undermined and made ambiguous by the beheading of Shonibares mannequins, but the light-hearted nature remain s strong in his re-creations. It is clear that the young wome n of Fragonards paintings hold much of the visual power in the scenes. Take for example The Lover Crowned : in both Fragonards original and Shonibares re-creation, the male figure is physically subor dinate; he is positioned lower and receives the action of the female figure (Figures 4 and 7) She holds the authority to consummate the relationship, but her motion is uncertain: she cr owns, or does not crownher gesture stops in mid air. In Fragonards painting, the couple is understood to be posing for an artist, who will memorialize the scene. The suitor gazes loving ly up at the young woman, and her gaze is directed towards the artist. In Shonibares installation, the characters ar e without their heads, so their gazes are irrevocably interrupted. He has also omitted th e artist, which augments the most striking 44 Kirby, 71. 45 Kirby, 73.


43 difference in the scene: the ambiguous gestur e. The young woman has no reason to suspend her action in Shonibares inst allation; the scene remains in a perp etual indeterminate state. Shonibare has also retained allusions to musical instrument s, present in Fragonards original. However, the tambourine is re-upholstered in wax-print fabric that blatantly showcases the Chanel trademark. Perhaps Shonibare is drawing a comparison between music as a luxury pastime of the eighteenth-century aristocracy a nd the possession of designer la bels in our own temporality. Both are reserved for the upper echelons and beco me signifiers of social status, though various forms (i.e. peasant folk music and so-called k nock-offs) are available for consumption by the lower classes. The appearance of the well-know n Western trademark in African wax-print fabric also adds another level of exchange and interdependency between the West and the developing world. Once again, ambiguity takes cent er stage in Shonibares work, augmented by Fragonards Rococo anti-narratives. Fragonards Love Letters is often read as love soliciting the aid of friendship (Figure 8). But when considered in light of the coquetterie already discussed, this one-dimensional reading is unsatisfying: what kind of friendship is be ing represented? Friends hip often functioned among the aristocracy as just one stage in the game of love. It could serve as a prelude to the sexual relationship, where the association may be said to be platonic even while parties nurse underlying sexual motivations. Indee d, Kirby recalls that the word ami doubled as friend and lover in eighteenth-century parlance.46 Shonibares The Confession also turns on this ambiguous re lationship (Figure 5). Is the confession one of friendship, of love, or of sexual longing? Either way, the woman still maintains the power in the scene, and presumably also in the definition of the relationship. 46 Kirby, 76.


44 Recall, though, that Fragonards original series may not have any narrative intentions, just isolated scenes displaying moments in the purs uit of love. The work, then, remains open-ended and can function as many different moments in the game of love. How then does Shonibare utilize his appropriate d subject matter? Has he simply chosen social stereotypes and cultural icons to questi on accepted values systems in the West? If so, Shonibares The Swing (after Fragonard) can be considered little more than an artful dressing-up of a recognizable coquette to implicate our own contemporary society in its sexual exploits (Figure 2). But why use eighteent h-century French exam ples? This histori cal period immediately preceding the French Revolution can be seen as emblematic of frivolous extravagance: the aristocracy enjoyed extreme wealth and luxury at the expense of the lower classes. Although trade with the continent of Afri ca did occur at this time, coloni alism proper did not come to be until the late nineteenth century. The wax-print fa brics, too, were not marketed to the continent until the 1880s. Historically speaking, then, Shoni bare is conflating many Victorian issues with the ancien rgime Can eighteenth-century French painting stand in for the entire Western world across time and space? Perhaps Shonibares critiques are not so closely linked to Fragonards paintings. They rely on various levels of ambiguity, and multivalent r eadings of his works may be more productive than definitive associations. Shonibares use of the wax-print fabric in relation to frivolous aristocratic scenes may be meant to simply unde rline the economic dispar ity and historical ties between the developed West and the developi ng world. Why indeed, choose French Rococo paintings as his points of reference? The truth lies in the visual plea sure. Shonibare is very true to Rococo aesthetic; his works share many of the same qualities, even when he is parodying other works and eras from the history of Western art. He, like Fragonard, revels in excess and


45 sumptuous scenes. Opulent period costumes, flir tatious episodes, and a play between revulsion and adoration are all at work fo r Shonibare, specifically here in his Fragonard-inspired works, but more generally as well. He is not simply critiquing or embracing Rococo aesthetic and meanings; he instead flits between the two. A mo re nuanced reading of the original Rococo works can inform interpretations of Shonibares re-creations, though they are not necessary for the works to function. Shonibares works both re vel in and critique conspicuous consumption, simultaneously implicating his viewers in the same dilemma. Yinka Shonibares works are most often read as reflecting economic imbalances and the troubled relations between the colonial past and postcolonial present. However, as Shonibare appropriates recognizable Western works of art to create his life-siz e installations, it is instructive to analyze the way in which he uses such images. His works maintain high levels of ambiguity, in his use of historically and c onceptually complex wax-print fabrics, his indeterminate, beheaded tan mannequins, and in hi s parodied scenes of canonical works of art. By combining references to Western high art traditions with African fabrics, Shonibare indicates an ironic interdependency through his visually delectable installations.


46 CHAPTER 4 WIM BOTHA: MIELIEPAP PIET South African artist W im Botha has also us ed well-known Western works of art in his contemporary sculptures and installations. Bothas works often hinge on issues of authenticity and perceived reality. The artist plays with familiar imagery, such as religious icons, aristocratic crests, and other highly charged status sym bols. Although Botha most often uses generic iconography in his work, he has also util ized specific canonical works of art. Botha was born in Pretoria, South Africa, in 1974. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Visual Art from the University of Pretoria, a nd currently lives and works in Johannesburg. He has achieved great success in South Africa for an artist so early in his career, winning numerous awards and featuring in many group exhibitions Botha was included in two major touring exhibitions: Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent and Personal Affects: Power and Poetics in Contemporary South African Art. He has also been the subject of five solo exhibitions in locations across South Africa in the last se ven years. Most notably, Botha was named the Standard Bank Young Artist for Visual Art in 2005. A ccording to the Standard Banks website, These awards acknowledge and applaud the tenacity and originality of young South African artists, and seek to actively encourage, promote and develop their aspirations.1 As the 2005 award recipient, Bothas exhibition, A Premonition of War traveled to seven locations around South Africa. In his Mieliepap Piet of 2004, Botha re-created one of the best-known works of Christian religious sculpture, Michelangelo Buonarrotis Piet from 1498-99, in St. Peters Basilica, Rome (Figures 10 and 11). This Piet is often referred to as a triumph for the Renaissance artist early in 1 Standard Bank Young Artist Awards 2007, 2007, Standard Bank, 8 Feb. 2008 .


47 his career. Michelangelos life-size marble scul pture depicts Mary, the Virgin Mother, holding the limp body of her son draped across her la p. The moment, though not biblical, is understood to take place after Christ was crucified and take n down from the cross. Ma rys head and eyes tilt down reverently, and her calm, solemn face draws vi ewers to join her in contemplating the limp figure on her lap. The subject ma tter clearly references the Ch ristian religious tradition. Michelangelos portrayal suggests somber mourni ng, where a mother quietly grieves the loss of her son. Stylistically, Michelangelo s sculptural expertise is a pparent in the many drapes and folds of Marys clothing, as well as the lifelik e, though beautified, appearance of both Mary and Jesus. Beyond its religiou s function, Michelangelos Piet is often cited as one of Western arts great masterpieces. Its fame has made it more of a recognizable icon in itself rather than a symbol for the moment it depicts. This difference, I believe, is crucial to Bothas use and remotivation of the image. Beyond Michelangelo Botha pains takingly re-created a mirror-image of Michelangelos Piet down to the originals exact dimensions. However, instead of chiseled marble, Botha utilized a somewhat unusual artistic mediummaize meal Maize meal, a corn-based por ridge, is a staple of many South Africans diets. Botha first created an arma ture of metal rods to give the sculpture its structure. This armature was covered with maize meal combined with an epoxy resin to create a congealed mixture. Botha then chiseled away at the mixture to reveal small details. When on view, Mieliepap Piet is installed on a simple steel platfo rm, akin to scaffolding (Figure 12).2 Michelangelos original is installed on an elab orate marble plinth, and the difference in display 2 See installation views in Personal Affects: Power and Poetics in Contemporary South African Art 2 vols. (New York: Museum for African Art, 2004), vo l. 2, 26-27, and from the exhibition A Premonition of War online at www.michaelstevenson.com.


48 provides a striking difference. The steel sca ffolding recalls construction work, which is impermanent and transitory. The work, too, created of maize meal, is much more impermanent than its marble counterpart. Botha explains, It is an honest and pr actical inference, it conveys a low-budget simplicity and devoids the image even fu rther of the originals implications and its esteem.3 The simple structure also de stabilizes the work, as it s eems far too weak to support the faux-marble sculpture. Botha continues, It is jarring, at odds with what one would expect for such a work and setting. Visually it creates an (imperfect, flawed) impression of floating, weightlessness. There are contradictions here, as elsewhere, bu t they are conscious ones, along with possibly many others4 The presentation of Mieliepap Piet serves to further complicate and challenge the viewers assumed response. Mieliepap Piet is not a clear simulation of the original, as Botha interferes with essential characteristics of the original and intends to create a different meaning. In querying the artist about a satisfactory term to desc ribe this work, he suggested th e invention of conceptual decreation,5 which I understand to incorpor ate his underlying meanings as well as his attempt to break through the understandings of Michelangelos original crea tion. He has not innocently or deceivingly created a doppelganger; instead, he has harnessed the Piet s visual and ideological power and used the image to inc ite a realignment of thought. For se mantic ease, I will refer to Bothas Mieliepap Piet as a simulacrum, as this term best defines Bothas use of a canonical work of art, but I will interrogate the function of this work as it exceeds the purpose of a simple simulacrum. 3 Wim Botha, Re: Query about Mieliepap Pi eta, email to the au thor, 5 Feb. 2008. 4 Wim Botha, Re: Query about Mieliepap Pi eta, email to the au thor, 5 Feb. 2008. 5 Wim Botha, Re: Query about Mieliepap Pi eta, email to the au thor, 5 Feb. 2008.


49 From afar, Bothas re-creation closely resemb les the original (Figures 10 and 11). Even though it is a mirror imagethus reversed in or ientationviewers may be momentarily fooled by its strikingly similar appearance. It appears as almost a simulation of the original, and because the original work of art is so recognizable, many viewers may not even no tice the mirror reversal of the image. Upon closer inspection, however, Bothas usual artistic material makes itself known (Figure 13). Instead the high degree of finish and smooth polish achieved by Michelangelo, Bothas Mieliepap Piet combines areas of high finish with areas left rougher in appearance. Though Botha has confirmed that the ma ize-meal mixture is a limiting material with which to work, with time and effort the artist realized it would have b een possible to make a near perfect copy.6 But Bothas real interest was not one of imitation or display of sheer technical prowess; rather, he has consciously juxtaposed these fi nishes to allow the viewer to gain access to his underlying concerns. Botha explains It is more of a dan ce of associations, of contradictory implications, of destabilizing an entrenched image, of cleansing meaning from a loaded icon.7 Therefore, the contradicting rough and smooth finish of the Mieliepap Piet serves as an integral characteristic of Bothas larger conceptual intention. Function of Simulacrum It is im portant, too, that Botha chose a speci fic work of art to recreate. Throughout his oeuvre, Botha has explored powerfully-charged religious and status iconography. For example, in Table I of 2003, Bothas composition replaces traditional animals associated with crests and coats-of-arms with hyenas (Figur e 14). Instead of noble lions a nd eagles, Botha uses a violent scavenger. By altering the animal, Botha recasts traditional upstanding heraldic imagery in a less 6 Wim Botha, Re: Query about Mieliepap Pi eta, email to the au thor, 5 Feb. 2008. 7 Wim Botha, Re: Query about Mieliepap Pi eta, email to the au thor, 5 Feb. 2008.


50 dignified, more explicitly aggres sive mode. Botha has also used general religious imagery. In his Commune: Suspension of Disbelief of 2001, Botha created a Christ-fig ure, as if crucified on an absent cross, out of bibles and surveillance equipment (Figure 15). Portions of the bibles are left intact and are recognizable, and red stains refe rence Christs wounds. The bibles are printed in the official languages of South Africa and draw attention to the complex history embodied by todays existence of eleven such languages. On e facet of apartheid was linguistic oppression: during apartheid, only English and Afrikaans were official languages, and others were both unacknowledged and discouraged. Considered alongside the survei llance equipment, Commune: Suspension of Disbelief references apartheids oppression and control. The mediation of religious beliefs (and texts) is also all uded to in this work. The two aforementioned works appropriate generic imagery, which turn on understandings of deep-seated religious and aristocratic associations. With Mieliepap Piet Botha enters into a critique of art history, and draws attention to the predominance of religious imager y in art history, when seen in relation to his entire oeuvre.8 Beyond choosing a particular work from th e history of art, Botha has chosen a very famous sculpture by Michelangelo. The work is instantly recognizable, and viewers already possess some pre-existing knowledge or opinions about the work. Most viewers will know of the work through numerous photographic reproductions, even if they have never traveled to St. Peters Basilica in Rome. The Mieliepap Piet s significance transcends the simple interplay between original and simulacrum. The moment depicted and the compos ition of the figures pose both resonate with a certain universality. In Bothas words, How many times have we seen photos in press or elsewhere of two people in this same pose, same moment of anguish or sorrow or tenderness? 8 Wim Botha, Re: Query about Mieliepap Pi eta, email to the au thor, 5 Feb. 2008.


51 The famous photograph of Hector Pietersen be ing carried away during the Soweto uprising, images by Gideon Mendel [South African photogr apher] or AIDS sufferers being tended, Palestinian fathers holding their slain kids. Real drama, real human tragedy seems moulded to this format: The surviving cradling the slain.9 The image of Hector Pietersen would surely be familiar to the majority of South Africans (Figure 16). The photograph was taken by Sout h African photographer Sam Nzima on June 16, 1976, when police opened fire on a group of school children who were protesting the imposition of the Afrikaans language in township schools in Soweto. Tensions had been rising since February of that year, when teachers who refu sed to cooperate were dismissed. Some schools went on strike in May, and on June 16, hundreds of children from three schools marched on Matsike High. Police ordered their dispersal, but instead they began si nging Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika, which means God Bless Africa in Xhosa. During apartheid, the song became somewhat of an unofficial national anthem to the suffering and oppressed.10 Police then opened fire, killing at least three and injuring a dozen. Thir teen-year-old Hector Pieterson was one of those shot and killed, and Nzimas photogra ph captures the moment when Mbuyisa Makhubo, another student, carries a limp Pieterson, accomp anied by Pietersons sist er, Antoinette, fleeing the scene for help. The next day the government reaffirmed their language policy, and attempted to maintain order at all costs.11 The final death toll of June 17, 1976, was 174 Africans and two whites, with hundreds more killings in the coming months.12 The photograph became an iconic 9 Wim Botha, Re: Query about Mieliepap Pi eta, email to the au thor, 5 Feb. 2008. 10 Nancy L. Clark and William H. Worger, South Africa: The Rise and Fall of Apartheid (Harlow, UK: Pearson Longman, 2004), 23. 11 Clark, 76. A portion of a quote by South African Prime Minister John Vorster. 12 Clark, 76.


52 image of this 1976 Soweto Uprising, and more broa dly an image that disp layed the brutality of the apartheid government. Pietersons body positi oning in Makhubos arms literally mirrors that of Christs in the Pieta and replicates the positioning of Bothas Mieliepap Piet When considered in light of one another, Mieliepap Piet then, begins to shed its specific religious context and becomes a universal icon for th ese tragic human experiences, and once again becomes a highly-charged image. In interviews, Botha talks about Michelange los original work as a reference to understanding and accepting some things to be inev itable. Michelangelos figure of Mary is not crying out in apparent anguish; instead, she is calm and almost accepting of the tragic events that have just transpired. Botha links this acceptance to an inevitability of ideology, and by extension, to martyrdom, saying, Wherever there is an ideol ogy there will be martyrs, if you believe strong enough. You mourn the events, and you mourn the sacrifice, but it become s a justification in itself of the cause.13 When considered as a parallel to the Soweto Uprising and the martyrdom of Hector Pieterson, these tragic and unjust deaths are motiv ators in spurring change. Though images of mourning abound, Botha argues that the Piet has combined mourning and loss with acceptance. Marys sons death is jus tifiable, in a sense, because it is for a larger cause, just as Hector Pietersons death was not in vain, for the apartheid system was finally dismantled in 1994.14 13 Wim Botha, interviewed by Tracy Murinik, in Personal Affects: Power and Poetics in Contemporary South African Art 2 vols. (New York: Museum for African Art, 2004), vol. 1, 67. 14 On June 16, 2002, the H ector Pieterson Memorial and Museum opene d near the place where Pieterson was shot. The museum and memorial are to commemorate th ose that died in the 1976 Soweto Uprising.


53 Marble versus Maize Meal In Mieliepap Piet Botha used m aize meal instead of marble to create his simulacrum (Figure 13). By changing the sc ulptures medium, the artist accomplishes several things. First, Botha has replaced a durable, expensive, historical artistic medium with a cheap, local food source. In doing this, Botha has called for a reinterpretation of the artworks meaning. Botha states, I was drawn to the material for its rich implications, and was pleasantly surprised at its effectiveness in simulating marble, for one, and th e conceptual implications of using a staple food to simulate an expensive, e lite material, of using something of essential value to simulate a medium that is largely useless apart from its decorative functions.15 Maize meal is very cheap to purchase but incredibly valuable, as it meets the basic dietary needs of millions of people everyday. Marble, on the other hand, is expensive but quite frivolous in that its only use is superfluous decoration. And because marble occu rs only in natural quarries, it is often only available at a great cost. Histori cally, this valuable stone has been reserved for elite patrons or projects, due to its expense. As far as meeting the everyday needs of the masses, marble is quite trivial. Maize meal, on the other hand, is inherently precious as a useful commodity, as it can physically nurture. Botha makes full use of irony here, because in using an inexpensive material, Botha also destroys the works perceived monetary value, as high works of art have historically been made of traditional (and costly) materials, such as marble. But the maize meal used here can no longer provide sustenance to people and becomes effectively useless when combined with epoxy resinit can no longer serve its or iginal purpose of nourishment. The maize meal is transformed 15 Wim Botha, Re: Query about Mieliepap Pi eta, email to the au thor, 5 Feb. 2008.


54 from utility into expensive indulgence, and th e sculptures original decorative function remains.16 Bothas use of a South African food staple is also conceptua lly important. His choice of an artistic material that can physically nourish co rresponds to the spiritual nourishment found in the Eucharist. The Body of Christ in host form is ingested by adherents to Christianity. Of course the sculpture Botha re-imagines is Christian in conten t, as has already been discussed. By choosing a material with local resonances, Botha effectively imbues his work with loca l significance. Just as the subject matter and composition can mirror the tragedies in South Africas past, maize meal can refer to ongoing struggles to meet daily n eeds. Complex history a nd contemporary problems are referenced through this simple shift in artis tic material. Interestingly, maize meal is not indigenous to the continent of Africa but originates in the Americas. It has been in a way naturalized as an African, and particularly a southern African, food staple. Therefore, Bothas use of maize meal can somewhat paralle l Shonibares use of wax-print fabric. On Exhibition Although Botha conceived of Mieliepap Piet in 1999, the sculpture was not realized until 2003. It was first displa yed in the exhibition, Personal Affects: Power and Poetics in Contemporary South African Art This exhibition was organize d by the Museum for African Art and encompassed two venues: the Museums gall ery space and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. Artists were invited to visit and create work s for both spaces that would be shown on exhibition. Although the exhibition and space did not influence the conception of Bothas particular work, it was well-su ited to both. Botha chose to exhibit Mieliepap Piet at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in order to dem onstrate their similarities (Figure 12). First, the 16 Wim Botha, Re: Query about Mieliepap Pi eta, email to the au thor, 5 Feb. 2008.


55 status of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine as the worlds largest Gothic cathedral rivals St. Peters Basilica in Rome, where Michelangelos Piet resides.17 Both Piet s were housed in alcoves to the right of the entrance. Bothas simulacrum para llels the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in that they are both colossal fraud[s].18 Bothas simulates a canonical Renaissance work of art and the Cathedral a ppropriates a style of architectur e, Gothic, that derived several hundred years before the Cathedrals construction. Both the cathedral and Bothas Piet are imperfect and unfinished and even possess scaffo lding. In Bothas comparison, In some ways my Piet perfectly aligns with the cathedral, both being imitations that have a more universalising function, where St. Johns is multi-denominational in approach19 The relation between Bothas Mieliepap Piet and its original exhibition loca tion, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, can effectively be read in relationship to expose their mutual similarities. Wim Bothas Mieliepap Piet accomplishes several things. It functions as a mirror-image simulacrum, or, in the artists words, a c onceptual de-creation of Michelangelos Piet Botha created his Piet out of maize meal instead of marble, a local South African food staple that alters the meaning of the work and imbues it with local significance. Botha deliberately left some parts of his simulacrum rough, so that viewers are able to puncture its artifice. He also deliberately chose this particular work for its po werful image and for its ability to transcend its specific religious theme. Botha relates the Piet to the icon of the Soweto Uprising, the photograph of Hector Pieterson, a victim of apartheid-era po lice violence. Bothas primary 17 James A. Kowalski and Tom Miller, Preface: Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in Personal Affects: Power and Poetics in Contemporary South African Art 2 vols. (New York: Museum for African Art, 2004), vol. 1, 12. 18 Wim Botha, Re: Query about Mieliepap Pi eta, email to the au thor, 5 Feb. 2008. 19 Wim Botha, Re: Query about Mieliepap Pi eta, email to the au thor, 5 Feb. 2008.


56 motivation for this work is an experiment in transformation, of cleansing of meaning, of democratizing a paramount image of exclusivity.20 He appropriates the power of a canonical Western work of art, interferes and complicates its original meaning, and prompts viewers to reconsider unquestioned beliefs. He states, For me suspicion is a major part of it: adding to something thats unquestioned in order to get you to reconsider. Its very valuable because people dont reconsider, they dont re visit firmly held beliefs, except when forced to by extreme circumstances, as in South Africa.21 20 Wim Botha, Re: Query about Mieliepap Pi eta, email to the au thor, 5 Feb. 2008. 21 Wim Botha. 71.


57 CHAPTER 5 STRANGELOVE: AFRICAN DAVI D In 2005, Strangelove created an updated version of another iconic sculpture by Michelangelo, David (Figure 17). In their photograph, African David Strangelove have replaced the monumental marble sculpt ure with a black male model, replicating the sculptures contrapposto stance, arm positioning, and intense facial expression (Figure 18). The contemporary image imitates Michelangelos Renaissance masterpiece, with several unmistakable differences. Strangelove is a South African conceptual design team comprised of Ziemek Pater and Carlo Gibson. Based in Johannesburg, they have been designing and cr eating together since 2001. Strangelove transcends many creative boundari es, using fashion as a launching point into various artistic venues. Strangelove designs hi gh fashion runway collections; these conceptual clothing designs comprise the collection, AvantGarde. In their own de scription from their website, they describe Avant-Garde as: This ra nge of clothing reveals where our passions lie. We like art, and we like it even more when art ge ts in our clothes. Our flair finds full expression in this format.1 They also design a ready-to-wear clot hing line, labeled Avant-Hard, which in their words, Combine[s] the harsh elements of our African urban environment with the delicate process of design.2 In addition, they also design clot hing on commission, which, like their Avant-Hard collection, Provide[s ] clothing for individuals looking for an authentic, original means of expression with their clothes Our wo rk is epitomized by our focus on cut, fit, and detailing with a preference fo r expert tailoring. Wear it.3 Though they maintain a retail shop and 1 Strangelove, 2008, 20 Jan. 2008 . 2 Strangelove, 2008, 20 Jan. 2008 . 3 Strangelove, 2008, 20 Jan. 2008 .


58 have been highly acclaimed at South African Fashion Week,4 Strangelove has also made their presence known in the art world. The conceptual aspects of the design duos wo rk are showcased through their involvement in the creative art world. They have collaborated with others on numerous performance projects. In explanation of these collaborative works, Ca rlo Gibson and Ziemek Pater state: In order to achieve the best expression of any subject we un dertake to discuss, we create stories, each of which wants to be told in its own special way. Once we have outlined the story, the creative process takes us into discussions with profession als from various fields, in order for the right kind of mediums to be part of the presentation. Hence collabor ations with other artists and specialists have become our preferred [mode of working], where our function is to create the story, and subsequently bring it to lif e by guiding the ensuing creative process.5 In two such works, Strangelove created c onceptual fashion designs for a piece by South African dancer Nelisiwe Xaba, who chore ographs poignant performances inspired by Strangeloves conceptual garments. Xaba choreographed a work based on the legacy of Saartjie Baartman, entitled They look at me and thats all they think (Figure 19). The performance is based on Strangeloves conceptual fashion design garment that consciously mimics the amplified curves of the Hottentot Venus, Saartjie Baartman (Figure 20).6 4 In 2002, Strangelove presented their conceptual clothing line, Wind, at South Afri can Fashion Week, where they were awarded honors for Best Mens Wear and Best Stand. Strangelove, 2008, 20 Jan. 2008 . 5 Strangelove, Objects, Agents, and Spaces of Circulation, Carter Conference Series, in conjunction with the 13th Annual Arts Council of the African Studies Association Trie nnial, University of Florida, Gainesville, 31 Mar. 2007. 6 Saartjie Baartman was a Khoikhoi woman who was taken to Europe in 1810 and exhibited for her steatopygia (an enlargement of the behind). After her death, a plaster cast of her body was put on display at the Muse de lHomme in Paris until 1982. Baartman has become a symbol of black sexuality and its exploitation by racist colonial practices. For further information, see Z. S. Strothers Display of the Body Hottentot, in Africans on Stage: Studies in Ethnological Show Business ed. Bernth Lindfors (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 1-61.


59 In another work entitled Plasticization, Xabas routine is based on a clever manipulation of Strangeloves China bag-based garment (Figure 21 ). The work playfully explores the man-made nature of plastic, the (plastic) materialism of society, and the importance of (plastic) condoms to protect oneself in the fight against AIDS. Stra ngelove has also transf ormed aspects of their conceptual designs into conceptual works of art. They have created an entire series of work focused on the China bag, which are cheap, omnipresent woven plastic bags. The bags play an important role to many in South Africa, including migrant laborers and tr aveling traders. Carlo Gibson and Ziemek Pater explain the impetus a nd rational for utilizing the China bags, On a global scale, the China bag is a common denomi nator between different peoples hailing from similar socio-economic groups. Thanks to its lo w price, the China bag has in its own way colonized most continents of the globe[This] seemingly basic item begins to represent emotional contentand as such, is ideally posi tioned to be further transformed by Strangelove into an agent of creativity.7 In one critics assessment, Asked to define exactly what these pieces areCarlo Gibson describes them as crazy creative things. He could just as easily have called these props and costumes, with lives of their own, conceptual gold.8 Art and Fashion Strangelove explodes notions of auto nomous artistic practice and divisions between media. Where Shonibare may work in a number of recogni zed (high) artistic media, such as painting, sculpture, photography, video, and installation, Strangelove pushes media boundaries by using clothing and fashion. Their interest in design and their retail sa les, private commissions, and runway shows function alongside their collaborations w ith performance artists and performers. 7 Strangelove, Objects, Agents and Spaces of Circulation. 8 Adrienne Sichel, Women: The Fabric of Society, Tonight 13 Feb. 2008 .


60 Most of their work is not meant to be shown in a gallery, but ra ther experienced on the streets, seen on runways or even worn as everyday clothing. Several exhibitions have explor ed the relations between art and fashion in the past two decades.9 Art/Fashion was first shown at the 1996 Biennale di Firenze and subsequently traveled to the SoHo Guggenheim in 1997. The exhibition tr aced the shifting relati onship between art and fashion through various case studie s throughout the twentieth century.10 A similar exhibition took place in 1998, at the Hayward Gallery in London. The exhibition, Addressing the Century: 100 Years of Art & Fashion looked at the dynamics between art and fashion. Although thematically organized, the particular themes chosen seemed to simply mirror chronological eras.11 In 2004, another exhibition addressed th e exchange between fashion and art. Fashination, at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, focused on three particularly produc tive periods of art and fashion exchange: surrealism in the 1920s, pop art in the 1960s, and the contemporary period, art since the early 1990s.12 Though these exhibitions explored th e exchange and influence between fashion and art, Strangelove has seamlessly blen ded these two in their practice. In their own words, We prefer to think of ourselves as artis ts, using the wearable format of clothes as our medium. We are extensively involved in theatre, dance and other creative fi elds that stretch the 9 Interestingly, the new season of the Br avo TV series Project Runway has ju st had a challenge to create a garment based on a work of art [program first aired 13 Feb. 2008]. Designers were allowed to choose a work of art from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York that was to in spire their garment. Although fashion and art have been taking inspiration from each other for centuries, this tim ely and evident example shows the efficacy of Strangeloves interest in crossing and indeed breaking down creative barriers. 10 Eleanor Heartney, 20th-Century Threads: Fashion Art, SoHo Guggenheim, Art in America 85:9 (1997): 43-45. 11 See Addressing the Century: 100 Years of Art & Fashion (London: Hayward Gallery, 1998). 12 Salka Hallstrm Bornold, Fashination (Stockholm: Moderna Museet, 2004).


61 realm of clothing design to an intensely creative space. The left-of-centre appeal of our range has its roots in this attachment we have to the fascinating world of the arts.13 Strangeloves photograph of a re-fashioned David then is yet another example of the varied media and markets in which they work. African David is a collaborative piece with photographer Hannelie Coatzee and was displayed as a life-siz e photographic image (Figure 18). It is a recreation of a familiar image, an adaptation from sculpture to photograph, and an appropriation of pose and subject matte r. Strangeloves David clearly recalls Michelange los original from 15011504 (Figure 17). Michelangelo carved one of th e masterpieces of his early career from a seemingly ruined block of marble. The monument al sculpture depicts Da vid, from the biblical story of the young Israelite who unexpectedly defeated the giant, Goliath. Michelangelos sculpture depicts the moment of deep con centration before David slung the fatal rock. David stands contrapposto with his furrowed brow fixed on the task at hand. His full head of curls frames his intense face, which is turned to l ook over his left shoulder where Goliath presumably waits. His left arm is bent, so th at his hand holding the slingshot just rests on the shoulder, with the slingshot resting on his shoulder and down hi s back. His right arm hangs motionless at his side. The young man is depicted in the nude, placing his youthful athletic body on visible display. Michelangelos David has become one of the most icon ic works of Western art. Along with his early Piet the David is often cited as the apex of Rena issance sculpture, as it celebrates the idealized human form, insp ired by Classical antiquity.14 In part because of this, the image of the David is widely recognized and has been subjected to a number of k itschy reincarnations. 13 Strangelove, 2008, 20 Jan. 2008 . 14 Georgia Illetschko, I, Michelangelo (Munich: Prestel, 2004), 64-67.


62 Consequently, even if a vi ewer is not aware of the David s original significance or biblical origin, most likely the viewer will be familiar with the image through its perpetual appearance on a variety of merchandise, such as magnets, ciga rette lighters, not to mention small plastic sculptures. Strangelove capitalizes on this recognizable image, altering only a few elements. One crucial overarching difference between Mich elangelos original and Strangeloves recreation is adaptation of the medium. While Michelangelo carved a figure out of marble, Strangelove has taken a live model, dressed him, posed him, and taken a photograph. The photographs presence is much different than ex periencing the original sculpture in the round. However, the majority of viewers are familiar with Michelangelos David through the dissemination of its imagenot through physical ly viewing the sculpture in person. Thus, Strangeloves re-creation effectively mirrors th e contemporary familiarity of the Renaissance masterpiecephotographic image for photographic image. Function of Re-creation The first and most obvious change in St rangeloves re-creat ion is the race of David For Strangelove as white South Africans, as for black South Africans, th is shift is monumental in its implications, as it directly relates to the history a nd fall of apartheid. It is only with the end of the oppressive institutionalized system of racism that a black man can be shown publicly in the guise of a figure from a canonical Western work of art. But beyond a simple reference to the celebration of the rainb ow nation, Strangelove may also be using the contrast between the classicized David and their African David for their subversive capacit y. By replacing the white body with a black body, the shift first points to racist preconceptions of ideal beauty. Historically, the black body has rare ly been celebrated for its Cla ssical beauty; rather, it has been the subject of exotic, highly-sexualized objectif ication. By choosing a male figure, Strangelove calls attention to assumptions of black male b eauty, and sexuality in particular. The two, indeed,


63 cannot exist without the ot her, as notions of black male b eauty are complicated and polluted by the unyielding associations with virile sexuali ty. Stereotypical assumptions of black male sexuality surround notions of aggressionprimal urges and violen t actions. These stereotypes are based on, and fueled by, racist preconceptions. Strangeloves African David recasts the Classical ideal, (beautiful and civilized) male figure as a black man. The sexual overtones of the original work and Strangeloves re-creation downplay any not ion of sexual aggression. The apotheosis of the Renaissance tradition, inspired by the ideals and achi evements of Classical antiquity, is now embodied by the black male body. Viewers of course will immediately recognize the image, even with its alterations, an d will perhaps also realiz e the deeper critiques and shifts achieved by Strangeloves alterations. Strangeloves use of a live model also pr ompts another glaring difference from the original: a hide loincloth has been fashioned to protect the male models modesty, whereas Michelangelos David is shown completely in the nude. Although blatant nudity was Michelangelos original intention, this bibli cal figure has had his modesty protected by conservative critics th roughout the centuries.15 An aptly placed fig leaf has sometimes censored this sculptures offending parts, not unlike St rangeloves hide loincloth. The choice of a cowhide, as opposed to re-creati ng the fig leaf, is important, as it calls to mind local resonances. This element alludes to the importance of the cattle herder, an important ro le throughout much of the African continent. In southe rn Africa, resilient nguni cattle are a source of wealth and are depended upon for their milk, meat, and hide.16 15 For example, in 1545, a metal loincloth suggesting foliage was attached to the hips of David to preserve the biblical figures modesty. See David: Michelangelo (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2006), 10. 16 Marguerite Poland, The Abundant Herds: A Celebration of the Nguni Cattle of the Zulu People (Cape Town: Clarkes, 2003).


64 The installation of the David s is also strikingly di fferent. Michelangelos original has been displayed in two different locati ons in Florence. Originally the David stood in the Piazza della Signoria, but since 1873, it has been housed in the Galleria dellAcca demia. In both installations, Michelangelos seventeen-foot statue has been pl aced on a pedestal more than six feet tall. This grandiose display has been simplified by St rangelove in their re-creation: their African David stands on a simple overturned black plastic milk crate. The milk crate is a common utilitarian object used in the townships of South Africa. The crates can be used as bins to carry goods, as stools to sit on at makesh ift trading posts, among ot her functional purposes.17 According to Ziemek Pater of Strangelove, the use of the milk crate is a way to tie in a contemporary element into our image of David.18 He goes on to explain that the additi on of the hide bracelet is a local symbol of manhood, given to every youth after he has completed his coming of age initiations and ceremony. Strangeloves David is also devoid of the originals curls. Shearing of hair, too, is a significant element in the coming of age ritual s for men of various cu ltures in South Africa. Strangelove has effectively recast this icon of canonical Western art and civilization by altering and incorporating details that imbue this im age with local and contemporary significances. Original Impetus Although African David f its into Strangeloves conceptual framework, this particular work was commissioned for a specific occasion. The photograph, created in collaboration with photographer Hannelie Coetzee, was commissi oned by the Michelangelo Towers in Johannesburg. The Michelangelo Towers includes a shopping center, gallery, and hotel complex. For its official opening in 2005, the center hired a curator to organize an exhibition for the 17 Ziemek Pater of Strangelove, Strangelove, Email to the author, 12 Feb. 2008. 18 Ziemek Pater of Strangelove, Strangelove, Email to the author, 12 Feb. 2008.


65 gallery space. An open call was circulated to artis ts for submissions of works that incorporate, recreate, or reinterpret Michelangelos David African David was proposed by Strangelove, and was subsequently accepted and placed on display as a life-size photographic image installed in the Michelangelo Towers Gallery to celebrate the official op ening of the complex. Even though Strangeloves African David critically appropriates this Western work, it is perhaps ironic that the impetus was explicitly commercial, like so many other David reincarnations. Strangeloves African David appropriates the pose and subj ect matter of Michelangelos famous David. However, Strangelove effectively altered the original so as to enact local significance. The design duo may also have had a subversive intent with their re-creation, which comments on stereotypes of black male beauty a nd sexuality in light of racist preconceptions. Most evidently, by chan ging the race of the David Strangelove reinterprets a canonical work of Western art and responds to local dynamics.


66 CHAPTER 6 JOHANNES PHOKELA: APOTHEOSIS South African artist Johannes Phokela often re -creates Dutch Old Mast er paintings, but he critica lly alters the gender or skin color of key char acters. He also insert s contemporary allusions that disturb traditional religious, mythological, or aristocratic readings of his Baroque-inspired paintings. Through these small alterations, Phok ela upsets national and cultural assumptions surrounding historical and contemporary art.1 Johannes Phokela was born in Soweto, South Africa, in 1966. He studied in both South Africa and the UK, first at the Federated Un ion of Black Artists (FUBA Art Centre) in Johannesburg and then attended several art schools in London, incl uding St. Martins College of Art, Camberwell College of Art, and the Royal College of Art, where he received his degree. Phokela currently lives and works in London. He has been included in numerous group exhibitions throughout the past tw o decades, including several major exhibitions in the past five years. In Unpacking Europe: Towards a Critical Reading of 2001, Phokela was included alongside artists such as Yinka Shonibare, Is aac Julien, Keith Piper, and Fred Wilson. In 2004, Phokela was featured in Personal Affects: Power and Poetics in Contemporary South African Art with Wim Botha, Jane Alexa nder, and Steven Cohen. In Body of Evidence of 2006, Phokelas work was displayed with works by El Anatsui, William Kentridge, and Godfried Donkor. Phokelas work has also been the subject of se veral solo shows, most recently in 2006 at the Johannesburg Art Gallery with his exhibition, Translation In Apotheosis of 2004, Phokela has loosely based his work on the style of Baroque master Peter Paul Rubens, which is characterized by voluptuous bodies, hei ghtened emotion, dynamic 1 Bruce Haines, Changing The Title, in Unpacking Europe: Towards a Critical Reading (Rotterdam: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, 2001), 380.


67 compositions and dramatic color schemes (Figure 22). However, his alterations charge this seemingly generic Rubenesque painting with co ntemporary allusions. Phokela depicts a myriad of souls as if in a Last Judgment scene. Some are falling to their fa te of an eternity in hell, while others are rescued by winged angels. The mass of painterly human forms falls away from the Christ-like figure, suspended at the top center of the compositi on, enclosed in a glass box. Rays of light radiate from this male figure, who rais es his arms and surveys the scene before him. Phokela has inserted a Latin inscription along the bottom of the canvas, which reads: Tyrannidi Benevolae de Grata Clientela Triumphus. This phrase can roughly be translated to: Due to grateful patronage, there is a tr iumph for the benevolent tyrant.2 Rubens Revisited The style of Phokelas paintings harkens back to the oeuvre of Peter Paul Rubens, a seventeenth-century F lemish painter now commonly referred to as one of the Old Masters. Rubens was a very successful artist who mana ged a large studio. Toge ther with his studio assistants, Rubens is credited with producing hundreds of works. Notably, one of Rubenss innovations was his prep aratory oil sketches.3 Prior to Rubens, many artists completed preparatory ink sketches to clar ify compositional elements. But R ubenss use of oil allowed him to establish the tone and lighting of a work, as well as its composition. Ph okelas painterly style often resembles an oil sketch, and undoubtedly owes much to Rubens. Beyond the artists style, even the composition of Phokelas Apotheosis resembles Rubenss The Last Judgment (Figure 23). Another painting by Phokela that directly utilizes the theme of the Last Judgment is Fall of the Damned (1993). The work contains masses of wr ithing voluptuous human forms confused 2 Translation by C. John Michet, graduate student in Classics at Washington University, St. Louis. 3 Peter C. Sutton, Introduction, in Pete r C. Sutton and Marjorie E. Wieseman, Drawn by the Brush: Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 17.


68 and tangled in a dramatic and chaotic compos ition (Figure 24). However, Phokelas title, Apotheosis points to another direction. Apotheosis comes from the Greek to deify, and refers to the glorification of an individual to a divine condition. Although Rubens has several works that utilize the title Apotheosis, one in particular closel y relates to Phokelas work. Rubenss Apotheosis of King James I from the 1630s, which adorns the ceiling of the Banqueting House in Whitehall, London. However, Rubens made several oil studies in prep aration for the final larg e work that are still extant. Phokelas Apotheosis shares a similar painterly quality w ith Rubenss studies, such as the version in the National Ga llery in London (Figure 25).4 Rubenss work celebrates the hypothetical deification of Englands King James I. Based on Phokelas use of apotheosis for his title, the assumption follows that the central Christ-like figure is becoming deified. Just who this central figure is remains vague, as is the reason for this figures exaltation. Painterly Qualities Unlike m any of the artists previously disc ussed, Phokela employs a traditional Western artistic medium: oil on canvas. Phokelas Apotheosis is arched at the top, a shape that resembles some altarpieces. For example, Rubenss Assumption of the Virgin altarpiece from Antwerps Cathedral of Our Lady also has an arched top (Fi gure 26). The painting itself is also quite large, measuring 8 x 7 (270 x 241 cm). Both the size and shape of Phokelas work echo conventions of seventeenth-century Flemish and Dutch altarpieces. But unlike finished monumental Baroque paintings, Phokelas Apotheosis resembles preparatory sketches. He utilizes an extremely reduced palette: white and limited shades of blue. Phokela also retains an obvious grid, which overlays the figures. Often, painters such as Rubens first made small 4 This version of Apotheosis of King James I from 1629-30 is on loan to the National Gallery in London from a private collection.


69 preparatory sketches for large commissioned work s. These sketches were frequently overlaid with a grid and functioned as sm all-scale drawings of the final work. A corresponding larger grid was first applied to the canvas of the finished wor k. The artist or studio as sistant then painted the larger work according to the grid, so that th e final work retained the same composition and proportions as the original sketch. Bruce Haines asserts that Phokela has used grids to flatten and neutralize the space and meanings contained within the framework of the painting. The seductiveness of the transcription [of Rubenss originals] is, though, negate d by a screen of white lines, traversing with a paneled effect across the surface, framing almost individually the forms of the descending naked bodies.5 The grid does frame certain figures, such as the standing windswept woman at the bottom left of the compos ition. However, the grid also levels the entire composition behind its screen of lines. This tech nical device provides a conceptual distance for the viewer; one is able to step back from the narrative of the wo rk and analyze underlying criticisms. Phokela uses indications of both finished paintings and preparatory sketches in Apotheosis : the large-scale size and medium of a finished work, juxtaposed with the limited palette, sketchlike quality, and use of the grid of preparatory drawings. Phokela combines these sometimes contradictory elements to question the distinct notions of preparatory drawings and finished works. In Rubenss time, sketches were a means to a final product, and not an end in themselves. In Apotheosis Phokela toys with the notion of finished work that resemble s the preparatory conceptualizing of an oil sketch.6 The disparity between finished works and preparatory sketches also extends to differences between original works as opposed to copies. Numerous 5 Haines, 381. 6 Nico van Hout, The Oil Sketch as a Vehicle for Rubenss Creativity, in Peter C. Sutton and Marjorie E. Wieseman, Drawn by the Brush: Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens (New Haven: Yale Univ ersity Press, 2004), 74.


70 preparatory drawings may exist of one final work, and all are cons idered original works in their own right. By appropriating a Rubenesque style, Phokela to o plays with this noti on of original works versus copies. Are his works to be considered original and autonomous, or can they exist only alongside an original Rube ns? Phokela answers, What I initi ally set out to do was to defy all those myths about Africa, and also to emphasize that copying in itself ha d its own life, its own energy.7 Haines agrees, The grid subverts the image and reaffirms both the paintings status as a reproduction and Phokela s position as an auto nomous practitioner.8 The grid calls attention to this works ambivalent status, perching precariously between notions of original versus copy, and a finished work versus a preparatory sketch. Phokelas Apotheosis challenges viewers to reassess conventional categorie s in the history of art. Intertwined Histories But Phokela m akes reference to more than ju st Rubenss dynamic style and innovation of the oil sketch. Phokela also uses a Rubenesque painting style to refer to seventeenth-century Dutch history and economy. Although Rubens wa s Flemish, his proximity to seventeenthcentury Dutch history and economy is useful fo r Phokela. The Counter-Reformation was in full force, and faced with the threat of Protestantis m, the Catholic Church and many of its wealthy proponents financed the production of lavish religious art, in attempts to reinvigorate the Catholic faith. Rubenss work is the most famo us example of this fervent religious belief manifesting in specific and plentiful Catholic art and imagery. Holland and Flanders in the seventeenth century were divide d: the southern Catholic province remained under Spanish rule, 7 Johannes Phokela, 121. 8 Haines, 381-82.


71 and the northern Protestant Dutch province fought for their independence from Spain and was eventually successful in 1648. The newly independent Dutch Republic be came an important naval power in the seventeenth century and colonized parts of Asia, America, and Af rica. The Dutch and their early contact with what is today South Africa is of particular importance, as these intertwined histories inform much of Phokelas work. In 1652, the Du tch East India Company sent an expedition of ninety Calvinist settlers who a rrived in what is todays Cape Town. By 1660, the population of the settlement rose to 187, including slaves. A school was opened to teach the children, and a fence was built around the settlement to separate themselves from the natives. By 1717, the population had reached five thousand, half of whic h were Europeans and half were slaves. From the very beginning, relations with local Africans we re antagonistic; slavery and segregation were customary. In Phokelas words, The main point of my focus on the se venteenth century is because its an interesting time in European history in terms of finance and commerce. Its the time when the first world bank was created, the first stock exchange, the first multinational companies; it was when the West was expanding there was this rush to grab land, and the Dutch were the masters of it. So Im looking at a particular period, and Im trying to compare it to the world economic situation right now. Ther e seem to be so many similarities in that.9 His paintings, historically Flemish in style, conflate Flemish and Dutch history to comment on South Africas historical ties to Dutch colonization. He presse s these intertwined histories to speak to continuing economic imbalances, which ar e products of this hist orical relationship. Phokela links these re-interpretations of Dutc h Golden Age paintingwith the colonisation of the African continent. Whilst Phokela's work weav es a personal history in to the canon of Dutch 9 Johannes Phokela, 119.


72 and Flemish old master painting, his practice stands as an examination of the violent actions of the Dutch in South Africa, as much as an inquiry into the history of painting.10 Contemporary References Although Phokelas Apotheosis resembles typical Last Judgm ent scenes painted throughout the Renaissance and Baroque periods, his title points to another source of inspiration. Last Judgment scenes in general depict the day in the Christian tradition when Christ will pass judgment on all souls. The Last Judgment also marks the second coming of Christ, and he is often the focal point of such images. Christ sa ves those souls worthy of eternal life in heaven, who often reside on his right-hand side. Christ banishes to hell those unworthy of entrance into heaven. These souls, often shown on Christs left, are seen in torment and anguish, falling to the depths of hell for their eternal damnation. In Phokelas Apotheosis the confusion of bodies differs from Rubenss more cl early segregated souls in his Last Judgment saved on Christs right, damned to his left. Phokela has maintained a central male figure, bu t the identity of the character remains vague. Instead of Christ presiding over the frenzied scene, Phokela has depicted a male figure suspended in a glass box. Although rays of light radiate from the box, it does not overtly appear to be a figure of Christ. Instead, Phokela has iden tified the glass box as a contemporary allusion to the controversial American magician, David Blaine. In 2003, Blaine fasted for fort y-four days while suspended in a glass box over the River Thames in London (Figure 27). Although he had a constant supply of water, he apparently fasted the entire time. An estimated ten-thousand people came to see him emerge from his box, 10 Johannes Phokela Re-Working Iconic Images, Absolute Arts 28 Jan. 2008 .


73 according to the BBC.11 Upon completion of his self-imposed challenge, Blaine suffered from malnutrition. Phokela has spoken of his amazement regarding the media response to Blaines very public, self-inflicted starvation. Phokela says, What cam e into my mind was that if those media ploys could be used to expose famine in Africa, it would be a gr eat thing. I wanted to bring that plight into focus.12 Phokela has utilized the recogni zable aspect Blaines media ploy of public starvation; by inserting the glass box, the artist attempts to reali gn his work with famine and starvation. But as media ploys fade in societ ys collective memory, so do their distinguishing features. Unfortunately, it is optimistic to expect viewers to recognize this fleeting allusion to contemporary popular culture. Phokela inserts the image of the glass box into his Baroque-inspired painting for its contemporary popular resonance. This refiguration attempts to blend a historical artistic genre with a contemporary allusion and achieves only a disjointed effect. If successfully recognized, this alteration reframes the rest of this Ba roque-inspired religious s cene. Starvation victims replace the generic scene of struggling saved a nd damned souls. But the figure in the glass box remains ambiguous. Phokela has spoken of the possibility for various readings of the painting, which depend on who is inserted into the glass box. That Blaine figure may land up being someone else, you know. It could be George Bush; it could be myselfas a god [laughs].13 If it were George W. Bush, how would the painting s meaning change? Would it become a critique of the actions of the current president of the Un ited States? Or would President Bush here be seen as a hero, owing to the generous contribu tions to the continent of Africa he has made 11 David Blaine Ends Glass Box Stunt, BBC News 19 Oct. 2003, 29 Jan. 2008 . 12 Johannes Phokela, 121. 13 Johannes Phokela, 117.


74 possible, presumably helping to alleviate the da ily struggle of thousands to meet basic needs?14 In Phokelas work, however, this Christ-lik e figures identity remains indistinct. In some ways, the ambiguous figure can be read in multiple ways, in light of many different situations. It can speak to societys tendency to ido lize people, holding a person up in great esteem, even for trivial means. It might speak to the perceived lack of any authentic savior. Although transparent, the box serves to maintain a clear separation betwee n realized goals and daily suffering. If the struggling masses below are understood as helpless victims, this glass box illustrates the unattainable solution. Indeed, the b ox may serve to delineate and draw contrasts between the developed and prosperous West, wh ere basic needs are met, and the developing and struggling continent of Afri ca. In Phokelas words, When you look at my work, theres no straightforward answer.15 Curious Inscription The Latin in scription that adorns the bottom of this painting reads: Tyrannidi Benevolae de Grata Clientela Triumphus (Figure 22). This La tin phrase can roughly be translated to: Due to grateful patronage, there is a triumph for the benevolent tyrant The phrase does not translate well, and the contemporary meanings of the words used in translation do not relate well to the original Latin meaning. Acco rding to one translator, clientela [or] patronage, refers to a relationship between the Roman elite and the lo wer classes[where] an upper class Roman male will have a group of followers, whom he looks after, and in retu rn they support him politically. Second, triumphus a triumph is a large parade and cel ebration for a genera l upon his return 14 In addition to increasing US aid to sub-Saharan Africa from $2.1 billion to $5.4 billion between 2000 and 2005, President George W. Bush also founded the $15 billion Pres idents Emergency Plan for Aid Relief (Pepfar) in 2003, which supports healthcare and provides antiretroviral drugs to HIV-positive people. 12 of the 15 priority nations for Pepfar are located on the African continent. Accessed 4 April 2008. and . 15 Johannes Phokela, 119.


75 to Rome after a successful military campaign ab road [but] if someone did acquire a triumph, it was certainly not due to his patr ons. Finally, the word tyrant is problematic, [as] there were not really tyrants in ancient Rome, at least in the Republic and Empire.16 If the words are defined in a traditional La tin sense, the phrase seems to describe an implausible event, where a Roman elite male would enjoy a large celebration following a successful military campaign, owing to his improba ble local support. However, if the phrase is loosely translated into modern English, then the phrase seems to describe an ironic occurrence, where the oxymoronic benevolent tyrant succeed s because of his indebted supporters. This peculiar phrase could describe difficult political situations involving ty rant-like leaders. For example, a leader gains too much power and proceeds to abuse his patr ons support, all while maintaining a pleasing faade. Blame is passed on, and the leader remains benevolent in societys mind. Whatever the interpretation, Phokel as inscription seems to further confuse and complicate the overall reading of Apotheosis Phokela combines historical a nd contemporary elements in his Apotheosis to make comment upon contemporary economic imbalances, historical relationshi ps, as well as the history of art. He appropriates a Rubenes que style, which allows him to comment upon disparities between original versus copy, finish ed work versus preparatory sketch, and the intertwined histories that began in the seventeenth century with Dutch colonization of todays South Africa. He uses contemporary allusions in attempt to exploit media hype and diverts it to the anonymous starvation victims in Africa. Through Apotheosis Phokela also references the perceived distance between Africa and the West but the underlying and undeniable connection 16 Translation and explanation by C. John Michet.


76 of a global economy. Phokelas objectives for this work are both complex and critical but also lofty; he relies on specific references that may not be readily accessible to the average viewer, which ultimately detracts from a su ccessful critical interpretation.


77 CHAPTER 7 HASSAN MUSA: SAINT SEBASTIAN OF THE SUNFLOWER Since the early 1990s, H assan Musa has appropr iated works from the Western canon of art history for use in his own works of art. Musa has utilized popular Renaissance and Baroque interpretations of biblical themes, such as depict ions of Saint Sebastians martyrdom. He has also used recognizable images from the Wester n canon and popular icons, including images of Josephine Baker, Che Guevara, Vincent va n Gogh, Osama bin Laden, and the Mona Lisa. However, Musa critically alters iconic Wester n imagery to comment on ideas about this history of Western art as it relates to African art and its misconceived authenticity.1 Hassan Musa was born in Sudan in 1951. He gr aduated from the College of Fine and Applied Art of Khartoum Polytechnic in 1976 a nd subsequently moved to France. He earned a doctorate in fine art and art history from the Univ ersit de Montpellier. Currently, Musa lives in Domessargues, in the south of France. He has take n part in several important exhibitions, such as Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa (1995), Looking Both Ways: Art of the Contemporary African Diaspora (2003), and Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent (2005). Musa works in several different media, including cal ligraphy-based ink on paper, image-based textile ink on printed fabric, and interactiv e performance art. In addition to his work as an artist, Musa simultaneously works as an art historian and critic. Because of this, art historian Salah M. Hassan has asserted that Musas work, can only be understood in the parameters of such global and international discourses and practices ... as [Musa has] special access to discourses of postmodernism and to the languages and techniqu es of contemporary-art practice around the 1 Salah M. Hassan, Hassan Musas ArtA fricanism: The Artist as Critic, in Looking Both Ways: Art of the Contemporary African Diaspora ed. Laurie Ann Farrell (New York: Museum for African Art, 2003), 116.


78 world.2 The artist strives to find the most e ffective way to deconstruct stereotypical understandings of contemporary African art. Hass an states, Musa has actively engaged in the deconstruction of the widespread and persistent cultural mythologi es and stereotypes of Africa, Africans, and African art that continue to plague the reception of modern African art.3 As an African artist living and working in the West, Musa is deeply concer ned with breaking down persisting fabricated perceptions of Africa. Musa s work addresses the dynamic and problematic interactions between Africa and th e West via the visual arts. As an artist with a foot in each place, Musa is particularly well pl aced to consider such relations. Musa executes his oversized paintings on printe d cloth. He begins with a printed design on a manufactured fabric; this design generally feat ures prominently in his finished paintings. By using a printed fabric, Musas works make reference to decorative arts Add this decorative quality to their large size, and the final products visual ly recall Renaissa nce and Baroque tapestries. After selecting a desi gn, Musa uses textile ink to pa int on the printed fabric. Often Musa retains much of the orig inal design, which repeats throughout, sometimes appearing as an overlaid decorative design. His fi gures, then, are overlaid with a variety of elements from the original printed fabric, such as plants, flowers, fruits, vegetables stripes, and even maps. Musa most often chooses a printed fabric that will add to th e critical reading of the work. For example, in his Saint Sebastian of the Sunflower Musa has chosen a print of sunflowers, to function as allusions to van Gogh and the arrows that in jured the Christian mart yr Saint Sebastian. Saint Sebastian of the Sunflower (1999) is characteristic of Musas appropriation of recognizable references to the Western canon of ar t history put to critical means (Figure 28). In 2 Hassan, Hassan Musas ArtAfricanism: The Artist as Critic, 115. 3 Hassan, Hassan Musas ArtAfrican ism: The Artist as Critic, 115.


79 this work, Musa appropriated th e typical portrayal of Saint Sebastian and combined it with a well-known self portrait by the la te nineteenth-century artist Vincent van Gogh (Figure 29). Traditionally, Saint Sebastian is de picted as a youthful male tied to a tree and shot with arrows, which pierce his near naked body.4 The sixteenth-century depict ion of Saint Sebastian by Il Sodoma is quite typical (Figure 30). Saint Sebastian is revered as an early Christian martyr, whose persecution and miraculous recovery in spired many sufferers. Because he made the ultimate sacrifice in support of Christianity, Sain t Sebastian can also be viewed as a metaphor for the brutal and violent history of the Catholic Church. Although Saint Sebastian suffered as a victim on behalf of the Catholic faith, this violen t episode also is reminiscent of the persecution the Catholic Church has inflicted upon others throughout the centuries. Imagery of Saint Sebastian can evoke admiration for his tremendous s acrifice, but this martyrdom of faith has the potential to induce complex reactions of Chris tian guilt and blame, wrapped up in centuries of austere rules and swift condemnation. Characteristic of Musas paintings, Saint Sebastian of the Sunflowers is painted on a preprinted textile. The textile is patterned with scattered sunflowers, which are readily associated with van Gogh. This Post-Impre ssionists paintings have beco me extremely popular since his death, particularly his still life s with bouquets of sunflowers (F igure 31). They epitomize his now famous trademark style: thick brushstrokes of oi l paint in bright, sometim es garish colors. But these sunflowers do more than just help identify the familiar self-portrait from the history of art: the stems of the sunflowers seem to pierce the body of this transfigured Saint Sebastian. Musa, 4 According to the Catholic tradition, Saint Sebastian was born in Narbonne, Gaul, and became a Roman soldier around 283. He converted numerous people, and when the Roman emperor began persecuting Christians, Sebastian was ordered to be executed. Sebastian was tied to a tree, shot with arrows and left for dead, but legend has it that he survived. He denounced the emperor for his cruelty towards Christians and was subsequently beaten to death around 288. St. Sebastian, Catholic Online 1 Feb. 2008 .


80 then, has made double use of each borrowed image: the recognizable visage of van Gogh and sunflowers directly recall the Po st-Impressionist master, and the pos itioning of the sunflowers as if piercing the near nude male figure refers to typical Saint Sebastian imagery. Together, these images challenge ideas about Western high art traditions Function of Combined Imagery Musa harnesses the associations m ost view ers bring to both van Gogh paintings and the image of Saint Sebastian to create new meanings, which reflect his own relationship to Western art. Van Gogh is often seen as a tragic victim in the history of art, as his works and believed artistic genius were not apprec iated during his lifetime. Van Gogh s letters to his brother Theo reveal his personal struggles, balancing his fervent passions and deep depressions.5 His life ended tragically in suicide, and today his paintings fetch some of the highest prices in the art market.6 Van Gogh can be seen, in a way, as a martyr of art: glorified after death for his artistic sufferings.7 By utilizing the self-portrai t of this distressing figure, Musa attempts to evoke a compassionate, heartfelt response from viewers who are able to critically read the imagery. Musa combines the imagery of van Gogh with the iconography of Saint Sebastian to create a work akin to montage. The recognizable self-p ortrait of van Gogh, with his red hair and beard, shows the artist opening his tr ench coat to reveal his n early naked body. The sunflowers, particularly characteristic of his widely popular oeuvre, seem to drift across his vulnerable body. The stems of the sunflowers seem to pierce hi s body, on his chest, thigh, groin, shin, foot, and 5 For a detailed account of van Goghs life and personal struggles, see Vincent van Gogh, Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh (Boston: Bulfinch Press, 2000). 6 For example, van Goghs Still Life: Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers (1889) was sold for a record $39.9 million US dollars in 1987. 7 Eliane Burnet, The African of Service to the People of Zoos: Biennials of Contemporary Art, Ethiopiques: Revue Negro-Africaine de Litterature et de Philosophie 73: np.


81 even eye. Van Goghs iconography has been alte red so as to invoke the arrows of Saint Sebastians attempted martyrdom. The combina tion of visual referents to van Gogh now functions as if the artist is a Saint Sebastian-like martyr. A critic writes of this work, Musa deals with [the Saint Sebastian] theme as an image th at is critical of the hegemonic presence of Western culture.8 Musa uses recognizable elements of canonical Western art as a way to penetrate the visual language of the contemporary art world, which is still based on Euro-centric art traditions.9 As an African artist, he rejects the notion that ones work must visually reflect Africa. Instead, he is concerned with appropr iating and critically combining Western imagery to reveal its constructed nature, and it s endless possibilitie s for interpretation. ArtAfricanism In his writings, perform ances, and work s of art, Musa has coined the term ArtAfricanism, which refers to the flawed id eological underpinnings of the (mis)representation of contemporary African art in the West. In Musas own words, I use the word ArtAfricanism to designate a certain contemporary African art, fabricated and implemented by European and African political events within the framework of the economic and political rivalries that have moved Afro-European relations si nce the colonial era. This contemporary African art is the natural product of an artificial cultural dynamic, one created by the exhibitors of non-European art in Europe and America.10 Thus, Musa uses the term ArtAf ricanism to refer to those works of art that rely on their immediat ely recognizable African-ness. Musa believes this kind of work panders to the Western art market, providing images that fulfill and perpetuate Western 8 Burnet, np. 9 Jolle Busca, Art History Revisited: Hassan Musa, Artexclu blog of Hassan Musa (4 July 2007). 1 Feb. 2008 . 10 Hassan, Hassan Musas ArtAfrican ism: The Artist as Critic, 116.


82 misconceptions of Africa. It is a lucrative repackaging of West ern stereotypes and mythologies of the dark continent in artistic form. Instead of using stereotypical African images, Musa ironically makes use of canonical works and images from the history of Western art. He turns these images back on their origins, forcing vi ewers to engage with the re-fashioned images. Related Works Musa has also created p erformance art pieces that hinge on spectators participation. Through their performative nature, these works attempt to emphasize the act of making art, rather than the autonomous product of art objec t. These Graphic Ceremonies often involve audience participation, riddles, proverbs, calligraphy, and drawings or paintings.11 Musa combines many disparate media to create numer ous contrasting relationships. He mixes the verbal function of calligraphy with the visual impact of images. Musa blends the participatory character of his interactive perfor mances and the autonomous nature of his finished works of art. One such performance directly draws upon Saint Sebastian imagery. In his Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian (1997), Musa created a triptych of three large printed-fabric panels painte d with textile ink.12 The side panels depict angels carving bows, appropriated from Mannerist artist Parmigianinos Cupid of 1523-34. The central panel shows Saint Sebastian appropriated from Titians Resurrection Altarpiece (1522). Unbeknownst to the spect ators, Musa attached condoms filled with red paint to the back of the central panel. Musa then gave spectators darts to throw at the painting, in effect reenacting Saint Sebastia ns attempted martyrdom. When the darts pierced the work, the paint-filled condoms soaked the fa bric with red pigment. It appeared as though Saint Sebastian was bleeding from the wounds inflicted by the darts. The performance and 11 Hassan, Hassan Musas ArtAfricanism: The Artist as Critic, 119. 12 No image available.


83 interactive nature of this piece brought the sain ts martyrdom to life and symbolically reminded viewers and participants of the violence associated with the hist ory of religions. Participants do not know whether or not they will hit the hidden targets, but they are all guilty of perpetuating the violence. Spectators, too, are gu ilty by implication; they observe this poignant artistic act and are implicated in the outcome. Musas use of bleeding condoms, too, resona tes with HIV/AIDS awareness. Although perhaps not his explicit intention with the work, the image of broken condoms leaking red pigment is highly charged. When related to th e image of Saint Sebastian, the connection becomes even stronger. Saint Sebastian is often depicted as a scantily-clad male youth with an androgynous sort of beauty. His attempted mart yrdom by arrows was a favorite depiction of many Renaissance and Baroque artists, who revele d in the heart-wrenching and gruesome image of a beautiful youth cut down in his prime. A c ontemporary Saint Sebastian may indeed be read as a symbol for the HIV/AIDS epidemic: youths, a nd stereotypically gay men in particular, are at an elevated risk if they practice unsafe sexual relations. The condom has become a preventative antidote to the incurable virus, and the imag e of broken, bleeding condoms can only conjure thoughts of the global str uggle against HIV/AIDS. Hassan Musa has attempted to break down ster eotypical notions of African art. He has appropriated elements of canonical Western work s and critically combined them to comment upon the hegemonic presen ce of Western culture.13 His Saint Sebastian of the Sunflowers blends the iconography of Saint Sebastian with references to van Gogh, exposing the artistic martyrdom of the now respected and revered van Gogh. His performance work, Martyrdom of 13 Burnet, np.


84 Saint Sebastian turns on audience participat ion, to reenact the youths attempted martyrdom with arrows. The martyr actually bleeds red pigment, and responsibility is pl aced on participants and observers. Musa effectively a ppropriates Western imagery to comment upon its dominating presence, and by altering the images, he ut ilizes their endless possible implications.


85 CHAPTER 8 CONCLUSION In order to comm ent upon hi storical and contemporary global relations, several contemporary African artists have appropriated elements from canonical Western art for their own critical use. They often utilize these elements or works of art first for their recognizable qualities: a familiar image has the ability to capture the viewers attention. However, their apt appropriation of canonical art historical imagery altered in specific ways has the ability to shed light on the complex relationships between Africa and the West. Some artists parody scenes from canonical work s of art, such as Yinka Shonibare in his installation works. Shonibares adaptations of Fragonards Rococo paintings both revel in conspicuous consumption and critique it, playfu lly pointing to historic and continuing global economic imbalances. He combines stereotypical references to the West, through aristocratic period costumes, and to Africa, by way of the conceptually complex wax-print fabrics, to shed light on their interdependency. Like Shonibare, Strangelove re-creates a familiar canonical work of art: their Africa David mimics Michelangelos original sculpture in pose and subject matter. However, Strangeloves small alterations force viewers to reconsider this work, both globally and locally in a South African context. By ch anging the race of the David and altering such details as his hairstyle, clothing, and platform, Stra ngeloves image retains the visual power of the orig inal but takes on contemporary significance. Similar to Strangelove, fellow South African Wim Botha appropriates subject matter from Michelangelo; his Mieliepap Piet exactly replicates a mirro r-image of the Renaissance sculpture. Bothas choice of medium, however, im bues this conceptual de-creation with local resonances. This powerful image of mourning also has the ability to transcend its original subject


86 matter and assume a more universal notion of injustice, particularly when considered in light of the famous photograph of Hector Pieterson, a victim of aparth eid-era police violence. Botha effectively transforms the meaning of this potent image, harnessing its power for his own means. Other artists combine disparate imagery to create a new works of art. Hassan Musa utilizes imagery directly borrowed from canonical art history, such as a llusions to Saint Sebastian and van Gogh in his Saint Sebastian of the Sunflowers Musas seamless joining of these images allows viewers to read their imp lications in dialogue, conflating notions of perceived martyrdom: one religious, the other artistic. Though Musa attempts to break down stereotypical notions of African art through the use of Western canonica l imagery, his criticisms of the hegemonic presence of Western culture are sometimes lost on audiences. Johanne s Phokela, on the other hand, combines a recognizable hi storical style with references to popular culture. His sketchy Rubenesque manner of painting raises questions concerning authenticity and the historical connection of colonialism, but his re liance on a fleeting media stunt in his Apotheosis can limit the viewers ability to succe ssfully decipher his pastiche. The works I have interrogated use differe nt means of appropriation, but all rely on subject matter from the art historical canon. Through close reading of their works, these contemporary African artists intend critiques of pa rticular histories, canonical Western art, and historical and contemporary understandings of globa l relations. Contempora ry African artists appropriations of the Western ca non enact playful and biting critic isms regarding the conceptual exchange taking place betw een Africa and the West.


87 APPENDIX LIST OF ART WORKS CITED 1. Jean-Honor Fragonard, The Swing French, 176 7, 81 x 64.2 cm, oil on canvas. The Wallace Collection, London. Accessed 17 Feb 2008 < http://www.wallacecollection.org/co llection s/gallery/artwork/133>. 2. Yinka Shonibare, MBE, The Swing (after Fragonard) Nigerian/British, 2001, dimensions variable, figure life-siz e, installation. Tate Collection, London (in Button, The Turner Prize, p. 209.) 3. Yinka Shonibare, MBE, The Pursuit Nigerian/British, 2007, dimensions variable, figures life-size, installation. (in Yinka Shonibare, MBE: Jardin d'Amour p. 40.) 4. Yinka Shonibare, MBE, The Crowning Nigerian/British, 2007, dimensions variable, figures life-size, installation. (in Yinka Shonibare, MBE: Jardin d'Amour p. 36.) 5. Yinka Shonibare, MBE, The Confession Nigerian/British, 2007, dimensions variable, figures life-size, installation. (in Yinka Shonibare, MBE: Jardin d'Amour p. 31.) 6. Jean-Honor Fragonard, The Pursuit from The Progress of Love series. French, 1770-1773, 317.82 x 215.58 cm, oil on canvas. The Frick Collection, New York. Accessed 20 Feb 2008 . 7. Jean-Honor Fragonard, The Lover Crowned from The Progress of Love series. French, 1770-1773, 317.82 x 243.21 cm, oil on canvas. The Frick Collection, New York. Accessed 20 Feb 2008 . 8. Jean-Honor Fragonard, The Love Letters from The Progress of Love series. French, 17701773, 317.18 x 216.85 cm, oil on canvas. The Frick Collection, New York. Accessed 20 Feb 2008 . 9. Jean-Honor Fragonard, The Meeting from The Progress of Love series. French, 1770-1773, 317.5 x 243.84 cm, oil on canvas. The Frick Collection, New York. Accessed 20 Feb 2008 . 10. Wim Botha, Mieliepap Piet South African, 2004, 174 x 195 cm, maize meal and resin. (in Personal Affects vol. 2, p. 27.) 11. Michelangelo, Piet Italian, 1498-99, 174 x 195 cm, marble. (in Illetschko, I, Michelangelo p 65.) 12. Wim Botha, Mieliepap Piet South African, 2004, 174 x 195 cm, maize meal and resin. Installation at St. John th e Divine, New York. (in Personal Affects vol. 2, p. 27.) 13. Wim Botha, Mieliepap Piet South African, 2004, 174 x 195 cm, maize meal and resin. Detail. (in Personal Affects vol. 2, p. 26.)


88 14. Wim Botha, Table I. South African, 2003, 34 x 39.3 cm, et ching and aquatint, stained. Accessed 17 Feb 2008 . 15. Wim Botha, Commune: Suspension of Disbelief South African, 2001, installation dimensions variable, figure life-size, carved bibles, biblical text, surveillance equipment. Accessed 17 Feb 2008 . 16. Sam Nzima, photograph of Mbuyisa Makhubo ca rrying Hector Pieterson, accompanied by Hector's sister, Antoinette during the J une 16, 1976, Soweto Uprising. South African, 1976. Accessed 17 Feb 2008 . 17. Michelangelo, David Italian, 1501-1504, 410 cm, marble. Galleria dellAccademia, Florence. (in Illetschko, I, Michelangelo p. 66.) 18. Strangelove and Hannelie Coatzee, African David South African, 2005, dimensions variable, photograph. Accessed 17 Feb 2008 . 19. Strangelove and Nelisiwe Xaba photograph of performance, They look at me and thats all they think South African, performance. Accessed 17 Feb 2008 . 20. Sartjee, The Hottentot Venus British, 1810. City of Westminster Archives. Accessed 4 April 2008 21. Strangelove and Nelisiwe Xaba photograph of performance, Plasticization South African, performance. Accessed 17 Feb 2008 . 22. Johannes Phokela, Apotheosis South African, 2004, 270 x 214 cm, oil on canvas. (in Personal Affects vol. 2, p. 58.) 23. Peter Paul Rubens, The Last Judgment Flemish, 1617, 606 x 460 cm, oil on canvas. Alte Pinakothek, Munich. Accessed 17 Fe b 2008 . 24. Johannes Phokela, Fall of the Damned South African, 1993, 287.5 x 223.5 cm, oil on canvas. Accessed 17 Feb 2008 . 25. Peter Paul Rubens, Apotheosis of King James I and other studies sketch for the ceiling of the Banqueting House, Whitehall. Flemish, 1629-30, 95 x 63.1 cm, oil on wood. On loan to the National Gallery, London, from a pr ivate collection. Accessed 17 Feb 2008 .


89 26. Peter Paul Rubens, Assumption of the Virgin Flem ish, 1626, 490 325 cm, oil on panel. Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp. Accessed 17 Feb 2008 . 27. Photograph of David Blaine during his forty-four day starvation stunt. A ccessed 17 Feb 2008 . 28. Hassan Musa, Saint Sebastian of the Sunflowers Sudanese, 1999, 156 x 98 cm, textile ink on cloth. (in Looking Both Ways p. 119.) 29. Vincent van Gogh, Self Portrait Dutch, 1889, 65 x 54 cm, oil on canvas. Muse dOrsay, Paris. Accessed 17 Feb 2008 . 30. Il Sodoma, Saint Sebastian Italian, 1525, 206 x 154 cm, oil on canvas. Galleria Palatina, Florence. Accessed 17 Feb 2008 . 31. Vincent van Gogh, Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers Dutch, Arles, January 1889, 100.5 x 76.5 cm, oil on canvas. Sompo Japan Museum of Art, Tokyo. Accessed 17 Feb 2008 .


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98 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH MacKenzie Moon was born and raised in Ma rshall, Minnesota. After graduating from Marshall High School in 2002, she earned her Bachelor of Arts from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota. She double-majored in art history and history, with a focus on the continent of Africa. Ms. Moon studied under Professor Leonardo Lasansky and contributed to the realization of two exhibitions of African ar t during her tenure at her alma mater. After studying abroad at the School for Oriental and African Studies, University of London, she graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 2006. She pursued her Master of Arts in art history at the University of Florida, Gainesville, and gr aduated in May 2008. At UF, Ms. Moon focused on Contemporary African art and studied under Dr. Vi ctoria L. Rovine, while greatly benefiting from the scholarship of Drs. Robin Poynor, Al exander Alberro, Eric Segal, Melissa Hyde, Shepherd Steiner, and Susan Cooksey. Follo wing graduation, Ms. Moon will continue her studies at the University of Florida at the PhD level.