'To Exhibit or be Exhibited': The Visual Art of Vetkat Kruiper

'To Exhibit or be Exhibited': The Visual Art of Vetkat Kruiper
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  This article was downloaded by: [Dr Nyasha Mboti]On: 18 July 2014, At: 02:53Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office:Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK Critical Arts: South-North Cultural and MediaStudies Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscriptioninformation:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rcrc20 To exhibit or be exhibited: the visual art of Vetkat Regopstaan Boesman Kruiper Nyasha MbotiPublished online: 14 Jul 2014. To cite this article:  Nyasha Mboti (2014) To exhibit or be exhibited: the visual art of Vetkat RegopstaanBoesman Kruiper, Critical Arts: South-North Cultural and Media Studies, 28:3, 472-492 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02560046.2014.929212 PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLETaylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the “Content”)contained in the publications on our platform. However, Taylor & Francis, our agents, and ourlicensors make no representations or warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness, orsuitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinions and views expressed in this publicationare the opinions and views of the authors, and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. The accuracy of the Content should not be relied upon and should be independentlyverified with primary sources of information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for anylosses, actions, claims, proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilitieswhatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to orarising out of the use of the Content.This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantialor systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, ordistribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms & Conditions of access and usecan be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions  472  ISSN 0256-0046/Online 1992-6049 pp. 472  –  492 28 (3) 2014 © Critical Arts Projects & Unisa PressDOI: 10.1080/02560046.2014.929212 To exhibit or be exhibited: the visual art of Vetkat Regopstaan Boesman Kruiper Nyasha Mboti Abstract This article examines the visual art of the late San ‘Bushman’ artist Vetkat Regopstaan Kruiper. The significance of Kruiper’s artistic work is explored in order to call into question two problematic assumptions: first, that visual art amongst the San ended with rock art, turning the ‘Bushman’ artist into a vanished specimen, and, second, that what is found amongst the San today is not, strictly speaking, art. Anchoring these assumptions is the pigeon-holing of ‘Bushmen’ as objects to be gazed at. Taking its theoretical departure from Lee and Hitchcock’s call for an ‘expanded anthropology’, the article views Vetkat’s art as both an act of authoring citizenship and belonging in contemporary South Africa, and as a form of exhibition-resisting exhibition. Keywords: glass case effect, ǂ Khomani San Bushman, Vetkat Kruiper, visual art Introduction It is not often that one sees or hears minoritised subjects such as the San representing themselves to themselves, or to the world, on their own terms. Rather, they are talked about   and represented both by their supporters and detractors. They are the exhibited   rather than exhibitors. The conference that resulted in these two special issues is a case in point. Though the gathering was made up of intellectuals largely sympathetic to the San, not a single ‘Bushman’ was present to give his/her side of the story. The absence may have been due to logistical or other issues, but it tended to underline the fact that the ‘Bushmen’ remain the told and the talked about. This article was presented as a paper while Nyasha Mboti was a post-doctoral fellow at the Centre for Communication, Media and Society, University of KwaZulu-Natal. nmboti@uj.ac.za    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   D  r   N  y  a  s   h  a   M   b  o   t   i   ]  a   t   0   2  :   5   3   1   8   J  u   l  y   2   0   1   4  473 To exhibit or be exhibited: the visual art of Vetkat Regopstaan Boesman Kruiper The tellers  of San stories remain mainly white intellectuals, and the telling continues to happen with or without the San people’s presence. It is as if these ‘small relic people’ (Lee and De Vore 1976: xvi) were never necessary  to their own discourse and to discourses about   them. An infamous instance of this specic ‘they-are-not- themselves-needed’ discourse is the so-called ‘Great Kalahari debate’ (Hitchcock 1985; Lee and De Vore 1976; Lewis-Williams and Biesele 1978; Wilmsen 1989). The debate was not ‘great’ because the San called it great. Rather, it was a great debate because two rival groups of white intellectuals chose to pitch their theoretical camps in an imaginary Kalahari. The Kalahari of the debate was imaginary in the sense that the debate largely took place in the minds of the interlocutors. It was not a debate in which Bushmen themselves debated about their srcins and identities.Why are Bushman thinking   and  presence  in debates about the Bushman seemingly unthinkable ? An historical aporia, with its roots in colonial cultures and imperial forgetfulness, seems to prevent Bushmen from being seen as thinkers, artists, philosophers and knowers. Lee and Hitchcock (2001: 273), in calling for an ‘expanded anthropology’, rightly celebrate the fact that ‘perhaps the most signicant development of the last two decades has been indigenous peoples speaking to us in their own voices’. This is an extremely important point. But why should this ‘signicant development’ be reduced to a question of them  speaking to us ? Which group is encompassed by the term ‘us’? Why do we assume that their voice  should   be used to speak to us? Who are we to be spoken to? None of the issues should be about ‘us’ at all. The prevalence of ‘us’ in the discourse about Bushmen exemplies what this articles refers to as the ‘glass case’ problem within which Bushmen continue to  be exhibited – even by those who appear to ght in the Bushmen’s ‘corner’. The ‘Bushman’ historically has been located in the place of the exhibition. When Clicko (real name Franz Taibosh), the so-called ‘wild dancing Bushman’ (Parsons 2009) died in 1940, the  New York Times  referred to him as ‘the only African bushman ever exhibited in this country’. It appears that the only top billing Bushmen and other ‘exotics’ could be expected to achieve was via the trope of exhibition, as objects being displayed, enjoyed, fought over, fought for, fought against, used or  pitied. From 19 th -century colonial exhibitions, to Clicko, to The Gods Must be Crazy (1980), the Bushman has been constantly subjected to the traumas and absences of exhibition. The expectation that the Bushman is there to be had  , as exhibition material, is what this article refers to as the glass-case effect. The glass case, a container   housing exhibited objects, is a central feature of the macro-environments of museums and galleries. Its purpose in relation to the Bushman is its ability to x, control and manage meanings centring on the Bushman’s identity. The view that the Bushman artist has vanished, for instance, is possible only in the context of the historical surveillance and panoptical capabilities of the glass case. This article    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   D  r   N  y  a  s   h  a   M   b  o   t   i   ]  a   t   0   2  :   5   3   1   8   J  u   l  y   2   0   1   4  Nyasha Mboti 474 explores Vetkat’s (2014) work in terms of resistance to the glass case, with his visual art being regarded as refracting and critiquing the notions of display  and container  . A people (and an art) presumed extinct The display and the container are core motifs in a discourse that, wittingly or unwittingly, reduces the San (and the Khoekhoe, among others) to a people presumed extinct. Many writers and scholars, some of them bestselling authors, have suggested that the San are extinct. Alistair Sparks (1997: 12), for instance, claims that there are no San people alive in South Africa today. The same assertion about San extinction is made by Laurens van der Post in The lost world of the Kalahari (1977). As one of the rst accounts to introduce the (myth of) San to Westerners, 1   The lost world of the  Kalahari is signicant for its myths, the most important of which, as directly implied in the book’s title, is that the Kalahari culture of the San represents a lost world. 2  One question that could be asked of Van der Post’s thesis is: lost to whom? The racist marking of the San as belonging to a ‘lost world’ puts them on the same zoological scale as dinosaurs. 3  As the self-designated last eye-witness of the lost world, Van der Post imagined that he had (re)discovered the lost San in the same way that the ctional Professor Challenger discovered dinosaurs in Venezuela in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The lost world   (1912). In fact, there has never been a point in the history of the San when they needed to be discovered or rediscovered. The San, like other Africans, have always been conscious actors in history, and have never been ‘lost’. 4  The myth of lost worlds, expressing the notions of pre-history and irretrievable loss, is itself hinged on displays and containers that have the supposed ability to arrest loss and disintegration.The myth of discovery, as such, was entirely colonial in srcin, in the same way that David Livingstone’s discovery of Mosioa Tunya or Robert Fagg’s discovery of the so-called Nok culture (Fagg and Plass 1964) were patent colonial myths. Linked to the discovery of the San was the ction that they were remnants of the Stone Age, and that Van der Post had located the ‘last bushman’. This myth dehumanised living Bushmen by suggesting they were a ‘vanishing people’, soon to be extinct. The myth fed patronising gestures (see Gordon 1985) aimed at the ‘conservation’ (see Miller [1993] and Kent [1996]) of the Bushman. 5  Ed Wilmsen (1995), Gordon (1993) and a few others have, however, largely debunked the Van der Post-style romanticisation of the San.The ‘discourse on the extinction of primitive races’ (Brantlinger 2003) extends to some commentators who sympathise with the cause of the San, with many of them still subscribing to the view that the San ‘perished’ or, at least, were destined to do so. For instance, Nigel Penn (1996: 83), in discussing the ‘destruction of the Cape San’, appears to conclude that the San ‘perished’ through no fault of their own. Robert Thornton (1983), Saul Dubow (1995) and Albert Moran (2009) suggest that    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   D  r   N  y  a  s   h  a   M   b  o   t   i   ]  a   t   0   2  :   5   3   1   8   J  u   l  y   2   0   1   4  475 To exhibit or be exhibited: the visual art of Vetkat Regopstaan Boesman Kruiper well-known archivist of |Xam oral material, Wilhelm Bleek, also viewed Bushmen as a race destined for extinction. Despite his vastly cited /Xam collection, Bleek was a pioneer of the ‘discourse of dying races’ (Thornton 1983). Former South African  president, Thabo Mbeki (in Barnard 2004: 10) – the political gure who presided over the return of parts of ǂ Khomani land in the Northern Cape – is also on record as describing the |Xam as a people who ‘have perished and even ceased to exist’. Patricia Vinnicombe (1976) makes reference to ‘the last’ Bushmen of the Maloti-Drakensberg mountains. The glass case effect The glass case effect occurs when the object of an exhibition is locked away behind safety glass for purposes of preservation, storage, and, most importantly, display. Glass cases are made to order for artworks, specimens, collectibles, trophies and memorabilia. They are airtight, sealed and climate-controlled. They represent an environment where things can be displayed and, by being displayed, disciplined. This metaphor arises out of my previous work for the National Art Gallery in Zimbabwe, where I assisted with visual art education, curation and preservation. It is during this tenure that I became aware of how the display case interacts with, and shapes, art objects. Display cases are special visual and semiotic objects in their own right, in addition to being permanent and important xtures of museums and galleries. The glass case incorporates several features, such as a sturdy wooden pedestal and locks to keep the contents safe. The case may also come with wheels to enable movement from site to site within the protected and protective walls of the exhibition space. Because objects that belong in a glass case are sensitive to damage, the art gallery and the museum are designed to be inert internal dust-proof environments, with minimal sunlight and air circulation. Within the silent and isolated micro-environment of the glass case, climate, humidity and temperature are carefully monitored and managed. All objects meant for display have a display lifespan, and the glass is meant to  prolong   the life of the displayed object. In this way the object continues to be available to paying or invited audiences for as long as possible. Easily the most important feature of the display case is the glass; often tempered and shatter-resistant, it is the feature that invites the voyeuristic gaze. It is transparent so that whatever is being exhibited is available to the panoptical gaze of the viewer. Whether wall-mounted, table-display, freestanding, hanging-from-the-ceiling or custom-made, all glass cases are containers . This is an important feature. As containers, they function to contain in the sense not only of keeping inside and having within , but also holding back  , limiting   and regulating  . A contained thing is simultaneously lessened, fetishised and objectied. This is due to the fact that the contained object takes the shape of its container, or, at the very least, exists within its limits.    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   D  r   N  y  a  s   h  a   M   b  o   t   i   ]  a   t   0   2  :   5   3   1   8   J  u   l  y   2   0   1   4
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