Picturing South Africa : an exploration of ekphrasis in post-apartheid fiction

Pretorius, Jana Lorraine (2015-12)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2015.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: South Africa's period of transition has given rise to new forms of cultural and artistic production, which both speak to and reflect the nation's changing social, political and ethical climate. This dissertation explores a narrative form which remains relatively uncharted in current critical conversations about post-apartheid fiction, namely ekphrasis, or the textual re-presentation of visual art. Although ekphrastic narration can be traced to the Classical antiquity, it has also emerged in seminal post-1994 texts, including Zakes Mda's The Madonna of Excelsior (2002), Patricia Schonstein's Skyline (2000) and Ivan Vladislavić's The Exploded View (2004). Consequently, this study considers how the authors have used ekphrasis to represent the 'new' South Africa, as it undergoes the precarious process of transformation. Beginning with an analysis of Mda's novel, I survey how the author employs pre-existing artworks created by the Flemish Expressionist painter-priest, Frans Claerhout, as a means of performatively rewriting the nation's troubled past, and engaging with the contemporary context of national reinvention. Specifically, I consider how the transliteration of these images serves to re-imagine the identities of black women publicly shamed and privately violated under apartheid's hegemonic ideologies. In so doing, I foreground how Claerhout's mystical protest paintings become central to the author's own narrative project of recovery, restoration and remembrance. Building on this, the chapter thereafter explores how the artworks also provide rich imaginative templates which enable Mda's narrative to challenge the social fractures and dissonances of the post-1994 transitional period. Focusing on the artist's hybridised formal aesthetic, I suggest that the ekphrasised paintings model the conditions for psychic and social transformation; consequently, their presence signals a need for malleability, improvisation and renewal, in order to rework the available categories of South African identity, and the broader socio-cultural landscape. Schonstein's Skyline, in turn, incorporates notional ekphrasis, or imaginary visual artwork, to represent South Africa's new social order based on the principles of Ubuntu. Chapter Three therefore considers how the ekphrastic pieces unsettle homogeneous paradigms of nationality, and serve to envision an inclusive, hospitable and multicultural public home-space. Diverging from Mda's and Schonstein's use of ekphrasis as a positive imperative toward transformation, however, Vladislavić's text offers a despairing portrayal of contemporary South African life. Accordingly, my final chapter explores how the fictional artworks accentuate the shortcomings of our democracy, and reinvigorate an awareness of the marginalised lives rendered invisible within the country's increasingly globalised and culturally opaque urban spaces. These ekphrastic readings illustrate, in various ways, how South African authors have specifically drawn on the visual arts to represent the post-apartheid condition in their own works, as the nation attempts to reinvent itself in the wake of a traumatic past. Thus, the study foregrounds how this synthesis of literary and visual art lends itself to opening new or alternative dialogues, critical frameworks and self-reflective spaces in contemporary transitional narratives, and indeed, within the present historical moment.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: In Suid-Afrika se oorgangstyd het nuwe vorme van kulturele en artistieke produksie ontspring wat die nasie se veranderende sosiale, politieke en etiese klimaat aanspreek en reflekteer. Hierdie proefskrif ondersoek ‘n verhalende vorm wat grootliks onontdek bly in die huidige kritiese gesprek oor postapartheidfiksie, naamlik ekfrasis, of die teksturele/verhalende aanbieding van visuele kuns. Al kan ekfrasiese vertelling teruggevoer word na die Klassieke tydperk, kom dit ook voor gekom in seminale post-1994-tekste, insluitende Zakes Mda se The Madonna of Excelsior (2002), Patricia Schonstein se Skyline (2000) en Ivan Vladislavić se The Exploded View (2004). Gevolglik oorweeg hierdie studie hoe die skrywers ekfrasis gebruik het om die ‘nuwe’ Suid-Afrika voor te stel terwyl dit sy onsekere transformasieproses ondergaan. Aan die hand van ‘n ontleding van Mda se roman ondersoek ek hoe die skrywer bestaande kunswerke van die Vlaamse Ekspressionistiese skilder-priester Frans Claerhout gebruik as ‘n middel om die nasie se troebel verlede performatief te herskryf, en in gesprek tree met die kontemporêre konteks van nasionale herontdekking. Ek oorweeg spesifiek hoe die transliterasie van hierdie beelde dien om die identiteit te herskryf van swart vroue wat in die openbaar beskaam en privaat geskend is onder apartheid se hegemoniese ideologieë. Op die wyse toon ek aan hoe Claerhout se mistieke protesskilderye sentraal word tot die skrywer se eie verhalende projek van herstel, restourasie en herinnering. Om daarop voort te bou ondersoek die volgende hoofstuk hoe die kunswerke ook verbeeldingryke patrone verskaf wat dit vir Mda se vertelling moontlik maak om die sosiale gebrokenheid en dissonansies van die post-1994-oorgangstydperk aan te spreek. Met die fokus op die kunstenaar se hibriede formele estetika, stel ek voor dat die ekfrasiese skilderye ‘n model is van die omstandighede vir psigiese en sosiale transformasie; gevolglik kondig hul teenwoordigheid die behoefte aan aanpasbaarheid, improvisasie en hernuwing aan om die beskikbare kategorieë van Suid-Afrikaanse identiteit en die breëre sosiokulturele landskap te kan her-vorm. Op sy beurt inkorporeer Schonstein se Skyline veronderstelde eksfrase, of denkbeeldige visuele kunswerk, om Suid-Afrika se nuwe sosiale orde, gebaseer op die beginsels van Ubuntu, voor te stel. Hoofstuk drie oorweeg dus hoe die ekfrasiese dele homogene paradigmas van nasionaliteit ontwrig, en dien om ‘n eksklusiewe, gasvrye en multikulturele openbare tuisspasie voor te stel. Vladislavić se ekfrasiese teks wyk egter af van die positiewe imperatiewe van Mda en Schonstein se werk, en verskaf ‘n wanhopige uitbeelding van kontemporêre Suid-Afrikaanse lewe. My finale hoofstuk ondersoek derhalwe hoe die fiktiewe kunswerke die tekortkominge van ons demokrasie beklemtoon, en versterk 'n bewustheid van die gemarginaliseerde lewens wat onsigbaar voorkom binne die toenemend geglobaliseerde en kultureelondeursigtige stedelike ruimtes in die land. Hierdie ekfrasiese geskrifte illustreer op verskeie wyses hoe Suid-Afrikaanse skrywers spesifiek na die visuele kunste verwys om die postapartheid-ingesteldheid in hul eie werk te verteenwoordig soos wat die nasie poog om homself te herontdek in die naloop van ‘n traumatiese verlede. Die studie hou dus op die voorgrond hoe hierdie sintese van literêre en visuele kuns sigself leen tot die aanknoop van nuwe of alternatiewe dialoë, kritiese raamwerke en self-weerspieëlende ruimtes in kontemporêre oorgangsvertellinge en, inderdaad, binne die huidige historiese moment.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/97840
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