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). 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…
Opening: 4 March, 5PM
Running time: 4 March – 18 March 2021
79 Roeland Street, Gardens, Cape Town, 8001
Mon-Fri: 9AM – 5PM
Closed on Saturdays, Sundays & public holidays
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.
This exhibition is a palimpsest which would not be possible without carefully curated pieces made available to the artist by The William Fehr collection, and curator Esther Esmyol. This collection is one of the finest and most comprehensive collections of art of the colonial period at the Cape, now housed by Iziko at the Castle of Good Hope, depicting an array of historical events, topographical views, streets and buildings, people, rural and urban customs and occupations. Works by Wilhelm Langschmidt, Samuel Davis, Nicolaas van Frankendaal, Aernout Smit and Henry Clifford De Meillon were chosen for this body of work. An additional large format artwork by Jan Brandes from the Rijksmuseum’s online repository was also selected. As these artworks have all entered the public domain, their reproductions are free to use for any purpose – even as a stage for monsters.
Bleek, D. (1929) Comparative vocabularies of Bushman languages. University Press.
Bronson, E. B. (1910). In Closed Territory. AC McClurg & Company.
Cohen, J. (Ed.). (1996). Monster Theory: Reading Culture. University of Minnesota Press. Retrieved January 19, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttsq4d
Hammond-Tooke, W. D. (1974). The Cape Nguni witch familiar as a mediatory construct. Man, 9(1), 128-136.
Johnson, S. (2015). Monstrosity, Colonialism, and the Racial State. J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists, 3(1), 173-181.
Lewis-Williams, J. D. (2010). The imagistic web of San myth, art and landscape. Southern African Humanities, 22(1), 1-18.
Miller, Penny. (1979). Myths and Legends of Southern Africa. T.V Bulpin.
Mutwa, Credo Vusamazulu. (1964). Indaba My Children. Canon Gate.
First and foremost I would like to thank the Cape Peninsula University of Technology for this opportunity and my supervisor Prof Izak van Zyl for his support in the process of putting this show together. Great thanks are owed to Esther Esmyol of Iziko Museums for her incredible help in sourcing public domain images from the William Fehr collection. Thanks also to Lailah Hisham who made sure I got the high res scans. To Artist Admin – Ashleigh, Georgia, Tabitha and Mark – for always being the wind beneath my wings. To Danielle Hitchcock for the beautiful designs and her infinite support as a sounding board. To Mhlanguli Gcobo for the stories about Inkanyamba and Impundulu. To Regina Kgatle for additional context about Tswana-Sotho mythology. To Lauren Beukes for her copy of “Myths and Legends of Southern Africa”. To Neil and Philip from Print Art, Frank and Tyrone from InTouch Framers, and Gabriella from Tokers Trophies. To my family and friends for the emotional support.
And most importantly to my husband Ben, for always getting excited about kaiju wiith me.