Monsters are near universal cultural phenomena – dormant, enigmatic, or accidentally spawned supernatural spirits, deities, beasts, and creatures whose mystic forces could maim or destroy even the most powerful civilisations. In “Monster Theory” (1996) J.J Cohen writes that the cultural proliferation of monsters across popular media embodies a commentary of our “ambient fears” as a society, which has manifested itself as a cultural fascination with monsters – “a fixation that is born of the twin desire to name that which is difficult to apprehend and to domesticate (and therefore disempower) that which threatens” (vii).
Monsters are near universal cultural phenomena
As a discourse, the construction of the monstrous challenges our geographic, temporal, and technological boundaries of culture – “an extreme version of marginalization. An abjecting epistemological device basic to the mechanics of deviance construction and identity formation” (Cohen 1996: ix). In this way, the conjuring of monsters are often metaphors for our own monstrousness, they force us to confront what we perceive as being natural; as being human.
Since the onset of Western colonialism, writers, artists, and explorers reported on encounters with “monsters”, whether sea creatures, mermaids, cannibals, troglodytes, fanged demons, or simply foreign races. These lurid tales confounded any efforts of acknowledging humanity in the Other and was often used as a vehicle for ethnocracy (Johnson, 2015: 173). In no place was this truer than in the project of colonising Africa. Yet even before colonisers arrived, rumours of mythical monsters and entities were abundant…
Dr Anja Venter is a postdoctoral fellow at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. “Monsters at the Cape of Good Hope” is her first (real) solo exhibition. The body of work was created as an output for her tenure as postdoctoral fellow. She studied four years of Visual Communication at Stellenbosch University and has since ‘made pictures’ for a variety of platforms and purposes, from commercial work to comics, games and apps. Her clients have included the likes of Apple Music, Nike, Nedbank, Heineken and Mr Price. She completed her Master’s degree in Media Studies at the University of Cape Town with a focus on video game culture in marginal settings. And was awarded her Ph.D. in 2018, focusing on how digital creative tools, particularly those on mobile devices, can assist in democratizing visual design capabilities. Hers was the first interdisciplinary thesis to emerge from a collaborative lab established by the Computer Science and Media Studies departments, at the centre in ICT4D. She considers herself an “artstronaut” – exploring the creative universe through a variety of media and practices.