Fictions and Failures: Experiments With the Archive in Contemporary South African Art

Unfortunate juxtapostions: Santu Mofokeng (first two left) and A.M. Duggan-Cronin (right), from 'Distance and Desire, PART I' (September 13 – November 17, 2012), Arthur Walter Collection

Unfortunate juxtapostions: Santu Mofokeng (first two left) and A.M. Duggan-Cronin (right), from ‘Distance and Desire, PART I’ (September 13 – November 17, 2012), Arthur Walter Collection

A number of recent attempts to engage with South African visual archives have resulted in artworks, exhibitions and discourses which are plagued with a particular problem – an overarching desire for aesthetics to overwrite and obliterate problematic historic and ideological concerns related to issues of representation and racism. The paper in particular looks at the use and abuse of the archive of Alfred Martin Duggan-Cronin (1874 – 1954), and critically engages with the writing of Michael Godby, the exhibition ‘Imaginary Fact’ (South African Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale 2013) curated by Brenton Maart and the work of artist Andrew Putter amongst others. It further interrogates the circulation of historic colonial photography in the art market and private collections, with particular reference to the Arthur Walter Collection.

An important framework for for the paper is the seminal essay by Okwui Enwezor, Reframing the Black Subject: Ideology and Fantasy in Contemporary South African Representation (1997).

– A version of this paper was first presented at CROSSING ARCHIVESa one-day conference on 1 December 2013, Lagos, organised by the Folkwang Museum, Germany and the Goethe Institute Lagos.

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