Masabelaneni: The Book Arts Archive of the Caversham Press and Centre for Artists and Writers

Artists’ Books: Culture and Narrative Drawing

Dr. Marion Arnold, Honorary Fellow, School of Social Sciences and Humanities, Loughborough University, UK

‘What can be shown, cannot be said’.
(Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico Philosophicus, 1922, no.4.1212).

Visual representation and verbal commentary, the ‘seeable and the sayable’ (Mitchell 1996:47), word and image – these variations of the same proposition possess a history of operating within the binary pairing of theory and praxis. From roots in the Greek theōriā (to see), theory seems to privilege the sense of sight, but used as verbal metaphor ‘seeing’ can be explained as cognitive insight coupling language with visual forms in the mind’s eye. Visual representations resulting from thought, memory and sensory perception constitute what Norman Bryson describes as the discursive and figural aspects of imagery. He explains, ‘By the “discursive” aspect of an image, I mean those features which show the influence over the image of language … . By the “figural” aspect of an image, I mean those features which belong to the image as a visual experience of language – its “being-as-image”’ (1981:6). This offers an explanation of the tension existing in a relationship between polar opposites.

Artists’ books demonstrate how image and text can cooperate and co-exist when handwritten or typeset words function as visual typography amidst pictorial imagery while retaining their literary significance. In this way a ‘book culture’ facilitates the construction of communicative spaces, freeing them from the disciplinary boundaries which inhibit the free play of the imagination. The Caversham artists’ books in the Jack Ginsberg Centre for Book Arts demonstrate a South African interpretation of book culture, but before engaging with particular bookworks ‘culture’ itself requires discussion. Raymond Williams (1921-1988), committed socialist, critic and academic, wrote extensively about culture, a word he found to be flexible and capacious enough to have many meanings and an extensive verbal vocabulary associated with its characteristics. He contends that culture,1 one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language. This is partly because of its intricate historical development, in several European languages. But mainly because it has now come to be used for important concepts in several distinct intellectual disciplines and in several distinct and incompatible systems of thought (Williams 1983:87).

As a result of their inherent instability, word meanings shift through time and, as the historical and cultural contexts of their usage change, words gain new inflections from issues and controversies of the day. Words facilitate human communication but, to control the communicative power of language, coercive propaganda aims to entrench a single intimidating meaning for a provocative idea, and to reduce words in circulation. In George Orwell’s prophetic, dystopian novel, 1984 (1949) which is set in a totalitarian state, words are eliminated by stringent dictionary editing with the aim of ‘destroying words – scores of them, hundreds of them … we’re cutting the language down to the bone …. It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words’ (Ch. 5).

In contrast to imposing a single meaning on a word the challenge for creative writers valuing free speech and freedom of expression is how to invigorate words with evocative meanings while acknowledging their historical origins. In 2017 Hilary Mantel, acclaimed for seeing history through her novelist eyes, delivered the BBC’s annual Reith Lectures and used the broadcast platform to explain her fascination with history and the gaps it provides for the imagination to create compelling fiction. Commenting on what history delivers she maintains that:

Evidence is always partial. Facts are not truth, though they are part of it – information is not knowledge. And history is not the past – it is the method we have evolved of organizing our ignorance of the past. It’s the record of what’s left on the record. It’s the plan of the positions taken, when we stop the dance to note them down. It’s what’s left in the sieve when the centuries have run through it – a few stones, scraps of writing, scraps of cloth (Mantel 2017: n.p).

Mantel reminds us that appropriate as words may be at the time of penning them, as time passes words can be lost. Alternatively, they may acquire new emphasis as mindsets change, and when studying ‘scraps of writing’ that survive history’s vicissitudes readers may identify new ways of interrogating the past. When Williams teased out the meanings of culture in Culture and Society he drew attention to an important shift from ‘a culture of something’ to ‘culture as such, a thing in itself’ (Williams’s emphasis, 1958:xiv). In 1981 he defined culture as ‘the signifying system through which … a social order is communicated, reproduced, experienced and explored’ (Williams 1981:67). This is especially significant when culture as a noun is qualified by descriptive adjectives and culture operates in the plural as: visual and literary cultures; Western, English, German, Afrikaans, Tswana or Zulu cultures; feminist and women’s cultures; high and popular cultures; socialist, Marxist, fascist cultures; Christian, Jewish, Islamic cultures, and so on. Such cultures, many bearing the political overtones of power in their usage, seldom function independently. Culture as a thing-in-itself encapsulates many contexts for interpreting writing, visual imagery, and the relationship between them and their narratives. Hence, when undertaking research on art genres, including drawing and artists’ books, one ought to engage visually with artworks through long, slow looking. Only then can research into contextual information be undertaken by consulting the existing literature, identifying the socio-cultural values and practices of the period, and considering the geographical places of art’s production and reception.

In academia the nature of fine art research has been contentious because art practice is about making artefacts but in the 1990s British educationalist Christopher Frayling clarified the objectives of practical art and design research. Referring to ideas suggested by the English art historian and philosopher, Herbert Read, Frayling devised a tripartite engagement for practice-based art research: ‘research into art and design; research through art and design; research for art and design’ (Frayling 1993/4:5). This accommodates the research of writers and artists into art history, aesthetics, and popular culture debates; research through practical experimentation with materials and processes of making; and research by artists for artworks by accumulating reference material and acquiring tacit knowledge of visual creativity. In effect Frayling identifies prepositions which offer evidence of what Ludwig Wittgenstein contributed to the philosophy of language in his proposition on meaning: ‘the meaning of a word is its use in the language’ (Wittgenstein 1953, no. 43).

Cultural activity is practised by groups of people who share beliefs, values, behaviour and ideas. These can all be discerned in artworks. Williams (1983:90) observes that as an independent noun culture describes ‘works of intellectual and especially artistic activity’. He also notes that ‘culture’ was used in 18th century Europe as a synonym for ‘civilisation’, an irksome word that gained traction once societies were classified as advanced or primitive, two more vexatious words which confirm that language penetrates and influences cultural power struggles. Despite the slippery nature of words their descriptive eloquence facilitates discussion of art genres comprised of both words and images. For instance, an ‘illuminated manuscript’ from the Latin illuminare ‘to light up’ embraces the languages of both handwritten script and light-rich, colourful picturing. Here, as elsewhere in art, the relationship between words and images is seldom one of equilibrium. As literacy increased, words enjoyed a lengthy period of dominance over images, and functioned as illustration to endorse verbal storytelling. In his opening chapter of Picture Theory, WJT Mitchell explores the concept of ‘the pictorial turn’ that challenged verbal dominance, and in his discussion on shifts in intellectual and academic discourse he identifies ‘the visual’ as a new focus of philosophical debate. He notes that ‘pictures form a point of friction and discomfort across a broad range of intellectual enquiry’ (1994:13) and concludes that ‘we still do not know exactly what pictures are, what their relation to language is, how they operate on observers and on the world, how their history is to be understood, and what is to be done with or about them’.

Answers might be sought in artists’ books because if picturing worries philosophers, it is less troublesome for artists who make narrative images and co-opt words as pictorial elements within their visual representations. Initially, contemporary western artists engaged cautiously with ‘bookwork’ but as interest in artists’ books developed, relative consensus emerged that artists’ books are artworks located in diverse book structures. In the 1990s Simon Ford collated definitions of the ‘artist’s book’ and discovered twenty-five definitions. He concluded that,

all the definitions can be situated within a polarised terminological field that ranges from the unique to the mass produced, the individual to the collaborative, the inexpensive to the luxurious, the textual to the visual, the conceptual to the tactile and the public to the private. The conclusion is bound to be that there will never be one precise definition (Ford 1993:4).

What is uncontested thirty years later is that contemporary artists make books as art possessing visual language and tactile materiality, and not primarily as literature.2 The most common book is the codex and it is a prominent artist’s book form. This three-dimensional, portable, haptic object contains two-dimensional pages fastened together in a fixed sequence to provide spatial sites for the cohabitation of the interrelated figural and discursive elements that prompt looking and reading. Codex books, handwritten or printed, editioned or unique, have bound pages flexible enough to turn forwards and backwards to enable narratives to advance or early details to be retrieved. In contrast, the accordion (leporello) form, comprised of folded pages can be pulled out as a continuous linear sequence of text/images, or be folded back on itself to conceal pages and to create narrative variations from a range of visible verso-recto pages. A unique artist’s book in non-codex form sometimes requires elaborate handling to access page information but all permutations of form deliver visual evidence of novelist-artist Audrey Niffenegger’s observation, ‘To make books is to create physical form for ideas’ (2007:13, Niffenegger’s emphasis). This neat explanation links material structure and ideation together in book formats designed to lure the viewer/reader to look at, handle, read, and experience the weight, size and textural surfaces which support content.

How books are made depends on the technical processes used in their construction, and where they are created. Residencies at The Caversham Centre in rural KwaZulu-Natal promoted collaboration between participating artists and master printer Malcolm Christian. His technical expertise and sculptural imagination facilitated the transformation of two dimensional drawings into images that could be reproduced through print processes, and then assembled and bound as artists’ books. Relief printing (woodcut or linocut), and screenprinting were favoured as processes appropriate for residency artists working on their books under time constraints. Collaboration between artist and master printer is mutually beneficial, each contributing specialist knowledge and skills to a partnership.3 As co-workers in the studio space, drawers and printers remind us that the root of collaboration is labōrāre – to work. Studio work is collegial, interactive and social; knowledge is shared, discussion contributes to reflection, and decisions about technical procedures are made jointly by artist and printer.

Figure 14, Elza Botha, Ra and Ma The story of creation (2000)

Caversham’s books reveal the versatility of sculptural book forms as purveyors of story-telling and drawing as the vehicle for narratives located in South Africa’s complex, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society. Elza Botha’s Ra and Ma The story of creation (2000) (Fig. 14-15) is a cross-cultural project. The text and picturing across front and back cover and the page spreads are woodcuts executed by Botha, a white artist, scholar and writer, but the storyteller credited on the opening recto page is Selekane Rakgoathe. Named black women are rare in field research on material culture and oral literature, and although Botha never met Rakgoathe she knew of her through her close friendship with Selekane’s artist-printmaker grandson, Dan Rakgoathe (1937–2004). After he went blind in 1989, Botha visited him regularly and heard the stories his grandmother told him. Botha commented, ‘When Malcolm [Christian] spoke about the idea of a book, I recalled the day in the Home for the blind listening spellbound to Dan’s vivid recount of Genesis as told by his grandmother Selekane. Now thanks to Malcolm I could pay tribute to Selekane and Dan’ (Arnold-Botha correspondence 2017).4 Botha does this in a pamphlet stitched codex book comprised of six pages of stark black and white, dark-light images, and text as hand cut typography. Pages are turned; an origin story flows sequentially:

Long, long ago there were two people, Ra and Ma. Ra was the father and Ma was the mother.

They so loved one another that they came to live together. And when they were together Ma said to Ra what shall we create?

And Ra replied we cannot create anything because we are in darkness. We cannot see – there is no light. Therefore let us create light. So they came together and then what came into them was the most powerful force that

there ever was, that is love. And out of this love they created light. And the whole world of nations sprang from

this light. So it is love what brought the world into being. When they say God is love, it is true according to African Genesis.

Figure 15, Elza Botha, Ra and Ma The story of creation (2000)

Exile (2001) (Fig. 16-17) by novelist-artist, Ingrid Winterbach, has a complex narrative form and origin story very different to that of Ra and Ma. In 1998, after a residency at CalArts in California, Winterbach was invited to contribute to Cargo, a literary magazine, in an issue called ‘Beyond Exile’.5 She submitted a short prose piece, Exile, and subsequently used this as her source for the large print and artist’s book that she created in 2001 at Caversham’s Journey residency. Exile’s content is early nineteenth-century history and culture in South Africa and Europe, and the visual-tactile form of this artist’s book presents a postmodern take on the complexity of culture as a thing-in-itself, and its collision with other cultures. The book is an accordion foldout with handwritten and hand-drawn pages into which a four-page, pamphlet-stitched typeset Exile text is introduced. There are, therefore, two versions of Exile, the printed text with its sequential story on consecutive pages which are turned, and a pullout comprised of an incomplete handwritten text overlaid with dark line drawings which can be folded in different ways to reveal different incidents in the story.

Figure 16, Ingrid Winterbach, Exile (2001)

The protagonist is Saartjie (Sarah) Baartman (1789-1815), a Khoisan woman, commonly called a ‘Hottentot’, who was taken to Europe in 1810 and exhibited as an exotic African curiosity. Winterbach tells the poignant story of her exile in England and France by imagining Baartman’s life and giving her a Black woman’s consciousness and physical presence. Winterbach’s choice of a historical subject exemplifies W.H. Auden’s observation that through art, ‘We are able to break bread with the dead, and without communion with the dead a fully human life is impossible’ (cited in Schell 1982:167). Winterbach communes with Baartman but she never names the woman in her Exile text. The opening sentences explain this fact, ‘She sails for London. She sails under a false name’. We do not know her birth name; history records only the name given by the Dutch with whom her people were in contact.6 Winterbach calls her ‘she’.

Figure 17, Ingrid Winterbach, Exile (2001)

Born in the Eastern Cape near the Gamtoos River, Baartman moved to Cape Town and entered domestic service. In 1810, having been persuaded to sail from Cape Town to England ‘towards economic emancipation’ (Exile text), she was exhibited in Piccadilly, London. Wearing a traditional African beaded apron and adorned with beads, shells and feathers, she sang, danced, and played stringed instruments. Her exotic clothing, cultural accoutrements, and physical appearance – enlarged buttocks, the condition of steatopygia – excited the attention of London society and caricaturists who engraved and published many drawings of the ‘Hottentot Venus in the popular press’.7 In 1815 Baartman, then in Paris, posed for three days as a model for several of Europe’s leading Enlightenment scientists, including anatomist Georges Cuvier, while staff painters at the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle painted naturalistic likenesses of Baartman for reproduction in scientific publications.

Winterbach (Exile text) describes Baartman’s objectification in the cause of science:

The circumference of her skull is measured. The distance from Clavicle to nipple is measured. The ribs are counted. The length of the Femur and its relation to the lengths of the Tibia and the Fibula is established. The circumference of the pelvic girdle is measured, but the relational distance between the Ilium and the Ischium (at its lowest point, where it curves towards the pubic arch deep inside her body) can only be approximated. She refuses to lift her beaded apron; the audience has to rely on its imaginative powers of displacement.

Baartman demonstrates agency only when she refuses to cooperate over scrutiny of her sexual parts. When she died at the end of 1815 Cuvier conducted a post-mortem examination (pictured by Winterbach)8. Plaster casts were taken of Baartman’s body. It was dissected. Her bones were boiled. Her brain and genitals were bottled. Her remains were displayed publicly in the Museum for nearly two centuries. Eventually released by France after a request from President Nelson Mandela, Baartman’s remains were repatriated to South Africa where she was accorded a state funeral on 9 August 2002.9

The Exile artist’s book is the product of collaborations: Winterbach (novelist) collaborates with Winterbach (artist) and Christian (master printer/book designer). An Afrikaans-speaking South African fluent in English, Winterbach wrote her early novels in Afrikaans as Lettie Viljoen and the later ones, translated into English, as Ingrid Winterbach. Brisset (2021:343) observes that, ‘Translation is a dual act of communication. It presupposes the existence, not of a single code, but of two distinct codes, the “source language” and the “target language”'. Curious about and sensitive to words in different languages, Winterbach is familiar with the strategies employed to translate ideas and experiences into forms that acknowledge and respect conventions, but develop extended identities through translation. Lawrence Venuti (2012:5) suggests that the history of translation theory can be,

imagined as a set of changing relationships between the relative autonomy of the translated texts and two other categories: equivalence and function. Equivalence has been understood as ‘accuracy,’ ‘adequacy’, ‘correctness,’ ‘correspondence’, ‘fidelity’ or ‘identity’; it is a variable notion of how the translation is connected to the source text. Function has been understood as the potentiality of the translated text to release diverse effects beginning with the communication of information and the production of a response comparable to the one produced by the source text in its own culture.

Winterbach’s novels suggest that she is less concerned with the ‘fidelity’ of translation, and more interested in the translated text capturing the expressive resonance of ideas in the words of another culture with its own verbal conventions and evocative capacity. In Exile she rejects the idea of images illustrating text and develops her drawings as empathetic pictorial translations of the words she had used to conjure up the Baartman life story. Imagining Baartman’s state of mind and the sounds of her verbal utterance, Winterbach gives voice to them in her storytelling through stimulating written descriptions in dialogue with line drawings.

John Berger, novelist, essayist, art theorist and artist suggests that,

There are two categories of storytelling. Those that treat of the invisible and the hidden, and those that expose and offer the revealed. What I call – in my own special and physical sense of the terms – the introverted category and the extroverted one. Which of the two is likely to be more adapted to, more trenchant about what is happening in the world today? I believe the first. Because its stories remain unfinished. Because they involve sharing. Because in their telling a body refers as much to a body of people as to an individual (Berger 2011:86).

Berger’s thoughtful reflections are relevant to late-apartheid South Africa stories which were ‘unfinished’ because the white Nationalist state controlled the circulation of history and promoted its version of history. Contesting this propaganda, struggle politics drew on literature and art to render the consequences of ideological separateness visible through images and stories where, ‘in their telling a body refers as much to a body of people as to an individual’. Berger’s ideas offer a route into discussing Ingrid Winterbach’s Exile words and images, or ‘imagetext’. Mitchell’s formulation of this term in Picture Theory remains insightful. Distinguishing variants of the fluid relationships between visual and verbal language, he analyses punctuation and meaning, and comments on

the typographic conventions of the slash to designate ‘image/text’ as a problematic gap, cleavage, or rupture in representation. The term ‘imagetext’ designates composite, synthetic works (or concepts) that combine image and text. ‘Image-text,’ with a hyphen, designates relations of the visual and verbal’ (Mitchell 1994:89, his emphasis).

The concept of imagetext unites words and images spatially in visual representation offering an integrated, mutually interactive relationship between words and images. Exile exemplifies the imagetext in action. This is Winterbach’s artist-writer collaboration with hidden history, her attempt to ‘treat of the invisible and the hidden’ as Berger phrased it above, and to bring the story of Saartjie Baartman into a socio- historical discourse by integrating drawing, handwriting and printed text. Winterbach’s narrative of Saartjie Baartman’s life and death was generated partly by her own liberal politics. She states that her first three novels ‘were “struggle” novels’ (Winterbach in Lenta 2009:165) and in 1989 she was part of a group of Afrikaans writers including Antjie Krog and André Brink, who met exiled members of the ANC at the Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, where they participated in The South African Writers Conference.

By writing Baartman’s story in English, Winterbach shares with her subject the adoption of a tongue not hers by birth and culture. South African history is drenched in the problem of language, a powerful cultural signifier of political power. It is impossible to read the Exile text without feeling the anguish of Baartman’s loss of her birth language. Winterbach evokes the experience of identity rupture caused when one tongue is denied and the foreign one sits awkwardly in oral utterance, an issue addressed by Indian poet Sujata Bhatt in Search For My Tongue: 10

You ask me what I mean by
saying I have lost my tongue.I ask you, what would you do
if you had two tongues in your mouth,
and lost the first one,
the mother tongue,
and could not really know the other, the foreign tongue.
You could not use them both together
even if you thought that way.

Winterbach imagines and honours a woman whose life story has generated a number of images by South African artists and writers.11 In both her large screenprinted drawing and her bookwork generated by her Caversham Journey residency Winterbach continued to explore ideas that had informed her Cargo magazine story. She commented,

I immediately realised that I wanted to write something on Saartjie Baartman. I was busy writing To Hell With Cronje at the time, and very much interested in archaic Afrikaans words - amongst these derogatory names for Hottentots. So one could say that it was actually these very evocative, but very politically incorrect and since discarded words for Hottentot (goiingtot, kieriekop, koffiestok, pokaaier etc.) that lead me to write about Saartjie (Arnold-Winterbach correspondence 2017).12

Winterbach also drew on her interest in maps. She explains,

I did preparatory drawings for the print in an old school atlas. The overlap of human figure and map suddenly opened a huge unexplored terrain. These maps seemed significant on many levels: evoking routes, borders, colonies, official history, personal histories. Perhaps most strongly evoking the passing of time and the insignificance of human endeavour. Working with the large figure of Saartjie Baartman – with her own particularly tragic history – againstthe background of these maps, seemed to add tothe layering and poignancy of both figure andmap (Winterbach in Journey catalogue 2003:42).

The background of Winterbach’s large Exile screenprinted drawing 13 is comprised of three maps drawn over a linear pattern of pale dull-pink autographic text. A small map on the left depicts ‘EARLY PORTUGUESE AFRICA’ and the Key indicates Trade Routes. The largest map, with a Key to decode information, is ‘SOUTHERN AFRICA from 1854 to the Union illustrating Routes, Boundaries & Colonies’. The final map on the right shows ‘ENGLAND & AND FRANCE illustrating Saartjie Baartman’. (Here, in an image, Baartman is named). Winterbach’s delineation of physical geography signifies the politics of European imperialism while five representations of Baartman imposed on the maps foreground the human repercussions of the colonial enterprise. Freely drawn in full-length figure studies, Saartjie Baartman, wearing her traditional apron and kaross, dominates the format. Viewers familiar with Baartman’s life will recognise references to the caricatures published in London, but Winterbach draws frontal views and Baartman becomes an image of everywoman suffering the gaze of objectification, and being denied her personhood.

Figure 18, Ingrid Winterbach, Exile (2001)

Winterbach’s artist’s book offered opportunities to create a verbo-visual narrative (Fig. 18) of Baartman’s life. The book’s form is ingenious. The wraparound cover encapsulates the artist’s interests in visual motifs which depict natural and culturally derived objects. The front cover, printed in dusky red and black, depicts an ovoid world, and a full scale representation of Baartman adjacent to the African continent. The word, ‘exile’ in black letters, is in a cartouche frame. The back cover has outline maps of South Africa and England and a large drawing of Exocaetus evolans, the Flying Fish. Inside the book Winterbach’s creative writing and drawing develop an empathetic story about Baartman. Commenting on her book Winterbach explains,

Here many visual motifs come together: my interest in stones, in biological drawings, in combining words and images. Saartjie Baartman is depicted as both heroic female figure and as (un)natural curiosity. I found it exciting being able to combine image and text in this way – without the image being illustrative or tooovertly narrative (Journey catalogue 2003:42).

The reader reads text and imagines the incidents of Baartman’s life, or the reader-viewer reads and looks at words and drawings that interpret Baartman from Winterbach’s perspective. On opening the book the reader discovers the pamphlet- stitched short story, formally printed in Times New Roman, and the densely written foldout text, rather difficult to decipher but overlaid with explicit drawings of Baartman, alive and dead. The fixed pages and the foldout pages enable different combinations of verso and recto pages to be displayed. The printed text is impersonal and factual, but the pullout can be folded back to juxtapose a verso drawing of Saartjie Baartman’s end – her organs in a bottle – with the recto first page describing her new beginning as she sails to Europe.

She will be the first of her kind. She stands on the prow of the ship. She sings tra-la-la, but in her language of opaque clicks. Not allowing entrance to her opacity. The sailors watch her from the corner of their eye. (Connivingly.) She is their figure-head. Carved from obsidian. Dark vitreous lava. Volcanic rock like bottle glass. Ebony; made of; black as. Black-ass as in jackass. With shades and traces of purple and dull mauve. Of Quinacridone violet and cobalt blue hue. The sea-wind lifts her cloak. The salty spray moistens her cheeks. The sailors shut their eyes. The earth curves away magnificently towards the horizon.

Commencing with facts, the prose then becomes richly descriptive as Winterbach (writer), alerted to colour by Winterbach (artist) locates sensually alluring words. With her particular interest in language and meaning, she conceives Baartman’s utterances in her native tongue and her ethnic identity: ‘She sings tra-la-la, but in her language of opaque clicks’. Subsequently Winterbach introduces her own academic research when the ship’s captain addresses his passenger in derogatory archaic Afrikaans words for Hottentot. Allowing herself artistic license and weaving fact and fiction together in poetic prose, Winterbach imagines Baartman’s life as she encountered European culture in England, and then in France where Winterbach imagines her posing for Marie-Guillemine Benoist and Théodore Géricault,14 and meeting Victor Hugo at one of the dinners she is thought to have attended.

Baartman’s recorded history contains omissions and silences. Winterbach’s drawings, dark in tone and mood, refer to specific incidents in Baartman’s life and her disappearances. She comments wryly, ‘like all political exiles, her route is sometimes difficult to trace’. When she emerges in France her distress and mental disintegration are evident:

She is sullen and moody. She wears a piece of turtle shell around her neck. Sometimes she bites on this and looks imploringly at the sky. After the dinner parties she returns at night to stay with the animals. She sheds her otter pelts and her beads, her magnificent kaross and her ostrich feathers, her glitter and her leather skirt, her beaded crimplenes and her stays, her ruched sashes and her hide jerkins, her skin colour tights and her jackal’s pants and her lion’s skin purse. She sheds it all like skin.

Significantly, Winterbach expresses Saartjie Baartman’s overwhelming loneliness in a European environment by acknowledging language as an intrinsic marker of identity, ‘Her obscure clicks become subdued; the sounds become modified. She speaks less and less; she has less need for language’.

Aware of the efforts being made in South Africa to reclaim Baartman’s remains, Winterbach ends her written narrative in the present:
She must be received back in her fatherland.
She must appear in the foyers of airports to be embraced amidst jubilations and laughter. The women must ululate; the women will lead the ululation, a high, shrill, piercing sound which signals both grief and triumph.

The theme is exile. The mood is obsidian and black, although the colour range is yellow and gold ochre, burnt and raw sienna, caput mortuum red, light oxide red, blue and dark violet, imperial purple and burnt carmine. The tone is sombre, indeterminate. The bones laid bare tell all; the story resides in the mortified (dissolved) flesh.

Artists’ books prioritise images and material objecthood but when a book is made by an artist who is also a writer, a particular synergy and tension emerges between words, images and tactile form. Exile offers a historical narrative imaginatively reconfigured in poetic description and factual statement, restrained printed text and expressively drawn linear words and drawn marks. Winterbach demonstrates how an imagetext, a hybrid form in a restless, unstable postmodern world can find its home in an artist’s book as a verbo-visual narrative drawing together different cultural sources.


Arnold-Botha correspondence 25 February 2017.

Arnold-Winterbach correspondence 17 March 2017

Auden, W.H. in Jonathan Schell (1982) The Fate of the Earth, New York: Alfred A Knopf.

Berger, John (2011). Bento’s Sketchbook, London: Verso.

Brisset, Annie (2000). ‘The Search for a Native Language: Translation and Cultural Identity’ in Venuti, Lawrence (ed.), The Translation Studies Reader, 4th ed. 2021. London: Routledge. Bryson, Norman (1981). Word and Image. French Painting of the Ancien Régime. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ford, Simon (ed.;1993). Facing the Page. British Artists’ Books. London: Estamp.

Frayling, Christopher (1993/4). Research in Art and Design. Royal College of Art Research Papers. Volume 1, Number 1, 1993/4:5.

Journey Catalogue (The Hourglass Project) (2003). Fulton County Arts Council and The Caversham Press.

Lenta, Margaret (2009) Ingrid Winterbach: Novelist (interview), Current Writing: Text and Reception in Southern Africa, 21:1-2, 164-172.

Mantel, Hilary (2017), Reith Lecture 1, ‘The day is for the living. Hilary Mantel on writing historical fiction’. Available at

Mitchell, WJT. (1994). Picture Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mitchell, WJT. (1996). Word and Image in Robert S. Nelson and Richard Shiff, Critical Terms for Art History, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

Niffenegger, Audrey (2007). What Does It Mean to Make a Book? In Krystyna Wasserman, The Book as Art. Artists’ Books from the National Museum of Women in the Arts. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

Venuti, Lawrence (ed.; 2012). The Translation Studies Reader, London and New York: Routledge, 2012 (3rd ed.)

Williams, Raymond (1963). Culture and Society (first published 1958). New York: Anchor Books.

Williams, Raymond (1981). Culture. London: Fontana.

Williams, Raymond (1983; revised edition, first published 1976). Keywords. A vocabulary of culture and society. London: Fontana.

Winterbach, Ingrid (1999). ‘Exile’ in Cargo 17/18, printemps/spring.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1922) Tractatus Logico Philosophicus, no.4.1212. Available online at

Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1953) Philosophical Investigations, no. 43, 1953. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.


  1. Williams’s publications include Culture and Society 1963, first published 1958; Keywords: a Vocabulary of Culture and Society, 1983, first published 1976; Culture, 1981.
  2. Johanna Ducker’s, The Century of Artists’ Books (2004; first published 1995) remains the most insightful text on artists books although the works she discusses are almost entirely American.
  3. There are of course trained printmakers who undertake the creative drawing processes and creative technical making of their prints. In South Africa printmaker artists are, inter alia: Pippa Skotnes, Fritha Langerman, Diane Victor, Christine Dixie, Kim Berman and Dominic Thorburn.
  4. Elza Botha writes as Elza Miles. She has published extensively on black South African artists, bringing them from obscurity to public attention and providing evidence of a rich range of work on diverse themes. Dan Rakgoathe was an important South African artist renowned for his prints which represent metaphysical rather than political or genre subjects. I thank Elza Botha for sharing information about Dan Rakgoathe with me.
  5. Exile was first published in Cargo 17/18, printemps/spring 1999, pp. 88-92.
  6. See Rachel Holmes. 2007. The Hottentot Venus. The Life and Death of Saartjie Baartman. Born 1789 – Buried 2002. London: Bloomsbury. Once the story of Baartman entered public discourse there was an argument about her first name. ‘Saartjie’ would have been given to her by the Dutch-speaking community in which she grew up. Like Winterbach I retain the Afrikaans spelling, a diminutive of Sara. The English spelling, Sarah, is on her 1811 baptism certificate, issued in England. Her surname is variously spelt as Baartman and Baartmann.
  7. Three caricatures are reproduced in the Wikipedia entry on Baartman,
  8. Well-informed about Western art history, Winterbach will have known Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp (1632).
  9. For a first-hand account of Baartman’s internment see Himla Soodyall, History, ancestry and genes in Joni Brenner, Elizabeth Burroughs and Karel Nel (eds.) Life of Bone, 2011: pp.35-38.
  10. Indian poet, Sujata Bhatt, was born in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. She immigrated to the US with her family in 1968, and now lives in Germany.
  11. Penny Siopis represents Saartjie Baartman in a number of works including Dora and the Other Woman (1989) pastel on paper; Exhibit: Ex Africa (1990) collage, oil paint, screenprint, perspex and found object on board; Untitled (Sarah Baartman), 1990, colour lithograph. Performance artist, Tracey Rose includes Baartman in her Ciao Bella 3-screen video projection (2001); Senzeni Marasela produced a series of linocut prints (2005). Winterbach continued to visualise Baartman: ‘I made an extensive series of Saartjie portraits in about 2002, 2003, based on a single, frontal image of Saartjie Baartman. Since then her portrait has cropped up in a variety of drawings/contexts’ (Arnold-Winterbach Correspondence 17/3/2017).
  12. I am indebted to Ingrid Winterbach for responding to my questions about her Exile works.
  13. Illustrated in The Hourglass Project: Journey catalogue (2002:43). This reproduction lacks the final screen with the hand-lettered word Exile superimposed on the maps.
  14. Benoist’s Portrait of a Negress (1800) is in the Louvre collection. Géricault also painted black models.

© Jack Ginsberg Centre for Book Arts (JGCBA). All rights reserved.