Growing up during the apartheid years in South Africa, we were taught to keep quiet. “Shh don’t say anything controversial about government policy especially on the phone.” As white South Africans, we lived in a post-colonial world, surrounded by barbed wire and high walls, while ¾ of the population lived in shacks. Returning to South Africa in 2013, I was struck by how much had changed and how little had changed.
Photographing the memorial stones outside Mandela’s house in 2013, I was moved by the gratitude towards Mandela who had saved the country from a violent future. The photograph “Thanks Tata” conveys this message.
The barbed wire exhibition explores through photographs, mixed media and works on paper my response to my country today, looking back and the future.
South Africa is a country of deep contrasts, a country of hope, injustice, natural beauty, desperate poverty and violence, a mix of European sophistication and African tribal culture.
I am interested in barbed wire as a symbol of political violence left over from the apartheid era. Barbed wire is once again becoming more prolific globally as a fence that cuts up the landscape, creating arbitrary borders. It was used throughout history to keep Native Americans, black South Africans, refugees and other marginalized groups out. As Razac says in his book Barbed Wire: A Political History, “Barbed wire has become the worst catastrophe of the century. Those who live behind barbed wire know that they are somehow less than human.”
South Africa used barbed wire to keep the scared ones in and the “dangerous” ones out. Barbed wire adorns the pillars of mansions, a form of savagery hiding in plain sight. Lyrical, and deadly. Ordinarily barbed wire blends into the landscape so well, it often goes unseen. The adornment of barbed wire with pearls and rhinestones shatters our willful ignorance. Apartheid South Africa was good at sweeping violence under the post- colonial rug.
Barbed wire, a reminder that some lives matter more than others.