South Africa’s constitution is founded on the democratic values of the right to freedom, human dignity, equality, non-racism and non-sexism. However, two decades after liberation, the country still struggles to combat the discrimination, marginalisation and victimisation of women. Patriarchy still remains deeply entrenched within the psyche of South African people, which has destructive effects on society. Despite the reported decline by 3.2% of sexual-offence crimes from 2015/2016 sexual offences and rape still remain stubbornly high. It is clear that South Africa still faces significant social challenges that result in on-going violence and crime, with women and children bearing the brunt of it.
The Sentinels Series is an ongoing activist series of life-size Vandyke brown photographic prints on cloth. In the series I explore my own identity in relation to violence against women and children in South Africa. I utilise my body as a vehicle to “perform” or recreate elements of generic and specific cases of violence in a suggestive and ambiguous manner. The figures act as strong female sentinels, whose role is to stand and keep watch over the victims of violence. They are advocates of courage, resilience, inner strength and empowerment of woman. They act as protagonists for the survivors of violence and are intended to metaphorically guard the spirit of the damaged and abused women.
The Sentinels was initiated in 2013, through a series of small photo-polymer and drypoint prints I made which was a response to the violent murder of 17-year-old Anene Booysen, who was found by security guards on the second of February 2013 after having been raped and disembowelled at a construction site. Not only had Anene been raped, but she had also been cut from her stomach down to her genitals, her fingers and legs were broken, her throat had been slit and “a broken glass bottle had been lodged in her. The reason Anene did not survive was attributed to the fact that she had lost a large portion of her intestines because one of her attackers stuck his hand inside her vagina and ripped them out. The brutal rape and murder of Anene Booysen created an outcry throughout the South African nation. Due to the high level of violence and pure evil associated with the case I felt compelled to take an activist stand with my art.
Within the series I look for ways to avoid further victimisation and sensationalism by actively turning the camera on myself, and consciously acknowledging the politics of representation. I therefore have tried to create an alter ego/ super hero to engage the paradox and discomfort of violence and vulnerability. Throughout the years I have developed and expanded on the series. At the end of 2016 I re-visited the case of Anene and followed her trial closely. I added particular texts that I had collected over the years within exposure the exposure process. This rooted my representation within a particular case and asked the viewer only to remember Anene. Representing Anene’s death serves as a reminder and a lesson for other women in terms of who they are and who they become. Despite the images being derived from violence, the figure is represented as calm and contained. She is alive and emits a form of power and strength. The duel function of these figures is to both remind the viewer of abuse, violence and cruelty, and also to project a feeling of hope, resilience and agency in the victim.
While you cannot measure the impact of art within a society, I have made it my goal as a visual activist to provide a heightened consciousness of social justice in South Africa. A single visual image may not have the capability to actively change the problem of violence and abuse. However, its power lies within its visual communicative ability to question, challenge, respond to and confront in the hope of social transformation. Within my own artistic practice, I cannot physically change the high levels of violence against women and children in South Africa. However, I can strive to create an army of Sentinels which guard the damaged and abused spirt of women. My goal is to create a large army of Sentinels who increase societies’ understanding of the epidemic issue of violence in an unapologetic manner, actively stand for the victims of an authoritarian culture, and send a message that embodies the title of my exhibition: Over my dead body!