CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

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VON VEH, Karen
Gendered Practices, rubric 1: Globalising gender studies, feminism and queer theory:

Session 10 Gendered Practices

University of Johannesburg


The evolution of feminism in the work of Diane Victor. 

Feminist art from the late 1970s onward had a very complex reception in South Africa which, at the time, was dominated by the Nationalist Party with their suppressive apartheid system of governance. Feminism aimed at critiquing imbalances of power (particularly gendered power) – but in South Africa during the 1980s the imbalance of white power over black people appeared to be the driving force in any cultural manifestation of social consciousness or activism and consequently the feminist movement was largely overlooked. 

Diane Victor’s (b.1964) works have always responded critically to the social context in which they were made, so they fall naturally into a category that might include both activism and feminism.  In this paper I compare selected works made by Victor during the apartheid era, which critique corrupt patriarchal political power, with those made more recently which foreground the social inequalities suffered by women in South Africa.  While both approaches could be classified as feminist, this shift in content indicates that perhaps the need for a critique of unequal power relations is even more imperative in what has, ironically, been termed a ‘post-feminist’ era. The new South African constitution guarantees equality for all and, on paper at least, women appear to have achieved gender parity.  Despite the social advances in official legislation, however, we still have one of the world’s worst records of violence against women and children and there is a huge proportion of our population for whom nothing has changed.  I argue that Victor’s emphasis on the plight of women in awork such as No Country for Old Women(2013), demonstrates an appropriate strategy with which to revisit the main concerns of feminism by raising awareness of the ongoing inequalities of power in contemporary South Africa.

VON VEH, Karen  

Karen von Veh is an Associate Professor of art history at the University of Johannesburg. Her research interests are in contemporary South African women’s art, gender studies in art, and transgressive religious iconography in contemporary art.  She has contributed articles on these topics to academic art historical journals and has co-authored two books on contemporary South African artist, Diane Victor namely:  Taxi-013: Diane Victor and Diane Victor:Burning the Candle at Both Ends, both published by David Krut.  Recent published articles include: “Deconstructing Religion through Art: Wim Botha’s Images of Christ.”  IKON 8: Journal of Iconographic Studies. Vol.8. June 2015. pp.181-192;  and “Post-apartheid masculinity reviewed through the lens of Christian iconography: The work of Conrad Botes and Lawrence Lemaoana.” Communicatio: South African Journal for Communication Theory and Research. Vol.39. no.2. 2013. pp.271-291, "Diane Victor, Tracey Rose, and the Gender Politics of Christian Imagery."  African Arts. Winter 2012.Vol.45. no.4. pp.22-33.   Karen is also past president ex officio of the South African Association of Art Historians and serves on the editorial board of De Arte, a South African journal of art history.