Transformation through reclamation and the repositioning of tradition

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The South African artist and bricoleur, Willie Bester, actively strives to reposition himself and his work in relation to traditional forms of representation. He simultaneously agitates for, and comments on, social transformation while reclaiming found objects and transforming them to rescript their meaning. His work is deeply symbolic, and while his use of reclaimed materials supports
this symbolism, reclamation in his work is also based on a pragmatic sensibility that recognises the abundance of discarded or disused materials. Bester’s work, especially his use of collage and assemblage, represents a distancing from, or repositioning of, the artistic traditions of the global North and some of their inherent underpinning cultural values. The use of collage in contemporary African
architecture represents a similar distancing from these values, especially in terms of conspicuous consumption. This paper uses Bester’s work, along with the work of Marcel Duchamp, Kurt Schwitters, Louise Nevelson, and El Anatsui, as a lens through which to comment on contemporary African architectural projects that make use of reclaimed material to re-script meaning and value. While the architectural works may not all have the symbolic depth of Willie Bester’s work, they are generally also a powerful critique on wastefulness. The contemporary projects typically make use of multiple modes of production and they may include repositioned techniques from the global North and reclaimed materials that have been transformed; the individual material potentials of these techniques and transformations are maximised by combining them and it could be argued that there is a resultant formalisation of a new contemporary Southern tradition of making.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-61
Number of pages19
JournalSouth African Journal of Art History
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


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