Since we got here everybody was telling us about June 16th. It is date that marks the youth movement and the killing of Hector Peterson a young boy killed in the student protest in Soweto 1976.
The communication about this date is built around the photo of the killed boy being carried by a young man and the boy’s sister running next to him.
Iconization and Reenactment
It is interesting how a photo can become a symbol. The photo is circulating in various forms. From big size formats like at the Hector Peterson monument to small formats designed for t-shirts and souvenirs. The iconization of the image is a way to simplify the complexity of an event. It also makes it easier to relate to. Which is not necessary a good thing because we end up circulating the image without engagement and further reflection. It creates distance, and we can easily be blind to all the different shades of the problem. Iconization can also make us stay in the past and not contextualizing the iconic event in our present society.
On the other to simplify can make it easier and faster to circulate the message. The recruiting that takes place in the communication of an important message or statement is also very important if we want to make a massive change.
Today there are also marches taking place down the same road where Hector Peterson was killed. The reenactment aspect of recreation of a historic event is not only a way of honoring and making a ritual to mark and show respect; it is also a way to teach through an experience. So the importance of the event can be passed on to the new generations. Re-experiencing something will naturally be connected to re-thinking. Reflecting. In this case, it will be making a status on today’s conditions in university as well as the racial, cultural and linguistic segregation.
Both the power of the photography and the reenactment are actually connected to the aesthetics and are often used as a tool for expression in art. It is thus quite interesting to look at how artists are looking at this event from their professional point of view.
Artists expressing about issues related to June 16th
Yesterday we visited the Apartheid museum, and some of the historic aspects of this and other events related to the struggle against racial segregation in South Africa became more clear to me. But in our exhibition too we had some artworks dealing with the topics such as the importance of language and rights to be thought in one’s mother tong, iconization of historic events and segregation today.
We talked about language. In the very beginning of the exhibition, we had a peace by Tlou Ramatlhodi on Khoisan language not being recognized as one of the 11 official languages.
We also had a piece by Alishia Strydom. It was a paperwork with the iconic image used as a logo for June 16th, but where she cut out the Silhouette of the young man carrying the dead body of Hector Peterson. She did that to communicate that there is a concrete mystery about the man because we don’t know where he is today, but also to symbolize that we in the society of today might be lacking what the missing man in the picture was representing: mainly the insistence on fairness, willingness to make a change and fearless confrontation.
Thierry Geoffroy did some artworks too. He took a pre-designed souvenir like t-shirt and made two significant changes in the text. One of the changes is regarding place and the other regarding time. His message was to make us perspectives the June 16th to other places in also reflect about it in the context of today. This artwork led us to talked about recent student protest movements, like #FeesMustFall that happened last year as a reaction to increasing in fees at South African universities.
We also had an artwork by Keneilwe Mokoena who talked about her personal psychological brokenness in relation to the brokenness in the society and politics in South Africa. She spoke about her mother’s experiences being a teacher in a “broken” education system, where the level of qualification is low. With her artwork, she activated an interesting debate about unfinished or broken systems in South Africa and the fact that many people, ironically enough, think that the life, in some aspects, was better before apartheid then now.
But how much can art do to create a protest and move things in order to create a real change? Can we talk about aesthetics of a protest? Can art be used as a protest? One of the Thierry’s artworks was activating these question in a very elegant and direct way. There was a simple but strong expression in this artwork which made it very clear. He used a white painting canvas and put a stone on top of it. The stone was found the same day in Soweto. It is a stone used in a violent protest to break the window of a bank to demonstrate outrage because of lack of electricity in peoples houses.