Vidi, Vici, Veni. 2008.
These works were part of my final year exhibition for my BA Fine Art degree, which I completed at the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town in 2008. The body of work is entitled Vidi, Vici, Veni (I saw, I conquered, I came) (and yes I did alter the wording of that famous saying).
The work investigates aspects of the societal role of women during South Africa’s colonial history, most specifically the period between 1652 and 1908.
Whilst men set sail to conquer new and foreign lands, many women of the merchant class would wait at home while their partners were away. The activities women were allowed to pursue while their partners were away were limited to activities such as embroidery, sewing, reading and writing. These activities are stereotypical of the feminine roles that were enforced by society onto women of a certain class during this period.
The absence of the women’s faces in my work, or in some cases the absence of their bodies entirely, alludes to many nameless women who throughout history have waited for men to return home from exploration, work or war. These photographs are, to some degree, about waiting and longing.
The photographs are constructed, which makes reference to the aesthetics of paintings from this era, and also to Victorian photographs. These scenes were either created in a studio environment, or were set up on a historical colonial site. I sourced all the props and created each set myself. There is only one image where a face is visible, and it is a self portrait of myself, the artist.
The use of patterned fabric, which acts as a backdrop or a frame to the scene, makes reference to colonial trade and colonial power in Africa. Some of these fabrics were brought to Africa by Europeans and were then appropriated by Africans into their culture, for example, South African Shwe-shwe and West African wax print. The use of these fabrics creates a connection between colonial powers and the colonised. It also alludes to traditional feminine activities such as embroidery and sewing. Objects such as African curios, paintings or indigenous flowers also allude to colonialism in Africa, and to the man who is away in the country to which these objects belong.