On representation(s): art, violence and the political imaginary of South Africa
The purpose of this article is to explore the multiple layers of representation which occur in the South Africa Pavilion at the Art Biennale in Venice, in order to understand how they constitute and affect the state’s political imaginary. By analysing three artworks (David Koloane’s The Journey, Sue Williamson’s For Thirty Years next to his heart, and Zanele Muholi’s Faces and Phases) which were exhibited in the 2013 Pavilion, two key arguments emerge: 1) in this context artistic representation can be understood as a form of political representation; and, 2) these artists are simultaneously state and citizenry representatives. A tension emerges between the political imaginary desired by the South African state and the political imaginary enacted by its representatives. The article draws on seven months of participant observation fieldwork at the Biennale, which included 76 interviews with people associated with the South Africa Pavilion, including government representatives, exhibition organisers, artists, and visitors. Part I explores the concept of representation in order to establish the two philosophical trajectories (political and artistic) with which this article engages – with particular reference to Michael Saward’s framework of the representative claim. Part II explores the multiple representative claims which the three artists and their artworks enact.