Writing Art History Since 2002

First Title

In June 1995 a new Afrikaans-language porn magazine, published by the owners of the South African edition of Hustler, hit the market. The title, Loslyf, roughly translates as “loose body”.

The conjunction of image and text in the shoot featuring the Voortrekker Monument represents more than the usual disrespect for the boundaries between sacred and profane, which is the staple of much pornographic literature, and constitutes a more serious critiqueof the most oppressive version of Afrikaner ethnic absolutism.

This claim rests on my understanding of the context out of which the magazine was launched: years of state censorship in South Africa and the emergence of an Afrikaner lower-middle-class constituency that the editors of the magazine saw as their readership, along with a coterie of middle-class Afrikaner dissenters and intellectuals (who providedthe bulk of the editorial staff) who were in 1995 even more intent on differentiatingthemselves from those ideally addressed by the symbolic litany of the Voortrekker Monument.

Flagged on the cover as Dina at the Monument, the feature is called “Dina: Loslyf’s Indigenous Flower of the Month”. That the photo shoot is represented as taking place in the hallowed grounds of Monument Hill, with the Voortrekker Monument looming large in the near background, is one kind of slap in the face for the Calvinist puritanism of Afrikaner nationalists. But there are many other features that make this a more knowing trespass. Two central conceits are crucial to its effectiveness in the South African context. One of the primaryconceits is that Dina is not just another porn star but is apparently related to one of the central figures in the Great Trek narrative, Gen. Andries Hendrik Potgieter.

Mobilising the very discourses through which Afrikaner nationalism constituted itself as the guardian of the white race (civilisation) — the indelible bonds of blood and family — she is quoted as saying: “My great-great-grandfather, Hendrik Potgieter, has been my hero since my childhood. He was the sort of man who inspired people to trek barefoot over the Drakensberg Mountains so that we Boere could be free and at peace living here in the Transvaal. If only we could have a leader of his calibre today”. To a South African reader schooled during apartheid this text is also clearly written as a pastiche of the standard children’s textbook version of the Trek.

The second conceit is of Dina as an “indigenous flower”. Devoid of the standard boudoir accoutrements of the models in the magazine, Dina is photographed en plein air amid the long grasses at the foot of the monument. Traditionally the relationship of the Voortrekker to the concept of nature is a complex one. The idea of the Trekkers as “a child of the South African wilderness” was a myth obviously calculated to enhance the Trekkers’ claim to the land through demonstrating a special affinity with the rugged natural environment. Dina’s description and the “natural” surroundings of the shoot clearly rely on this association while potentially exposing the contradictions of its sexual content.

Similarly, guides to the monument note that earlier Dutch or Portuguese settlers found “the interior of Africa too vast, the forces of nature too strong… It was left to the Voortrekkers… to force, at a great price, an entry into the interior and establish a white civilisation… To achieve his ideal, he had to tame nature, conquer the savages and establish his state”. In fact, such copy could easily have found its way verbatim into the pages of a less knowing porn magazine since it conforms creditably with most of the basic requirements of pornographicwriting. The conceit of Dina as an “indigenous flower” plays with the implicitly sexual content of such an ideology and the violence that underscores it.

In the symbolic schema of the Voortrekker Monument, the Voortrekker ideal is achieved through the statues of the Voortrekker Mother and her two children, representing “white civilisation,” while “the black wildebeest [in retreat] portray the ever threatening dangers ofAfrica”. Far from the Calvinist puritanism of the early Voortrekker dress and kappie (the bonnet traditionally worn by Boer women), our “indigenous flower” is confusingly kitted out in an outfit more resonant of the threat of the African wild or of the male Voortrekker’s attempts to tame it (especially in shots of her posing in a man’s bush jacket). Nor is motherhoodon her mind. In fact, she disrupts the versions of both femininity and masculinity (black and white) played out in the monument, providing a kind of composite figure in which both gendered and ethnic identifications are deliberately confused.

Dina’s attire also makes reference to the pugilistic qualities of the Boer women, often indicated in histories of the Trek and immortalised in the monument’s frieze. The effect here is to display the contradictions of the image of the demure Calvinist homemaker and the procreator of the Boer nation by casting the Boer woman as Amazon — in other words,exposing the contradiction by explicitly sexualising the Boer woman’s warrior status. In a timely finale, given the furore raging over heritage and monuments, the story culminates in relentless punning.

“The 24-four-year-old nurse from Pretoria doesn’t beat around the bush when she speaks of her love of Afrikaans language and culture. ‘All the people who are so eager to punish the Afrikaner volk by demolishing and desecrating our monuments are playing with fire. They should know: if you interfere with my symbols, you interfere with me.'”

Annie E. Coombes, Professor of Material and Visual Culture in the School of History of Art, Birkbeck College, University of London, is the author of Reinventing Africa

Extracted from History After Apartheid: Visual Culture and Public Memory in a Democratic South Africa (Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2004). Reprinted with kind permission of author and publisher

Opening spread of ‘Inheemse blom van die maand: Diana’ (Indigenous Flower of the Month), Loslyf, June 1995

Related Posts

Scroll to Top