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  • Writer's pictureLindsey de Roos

an imposter to her memories

Lindsey de Roos

Eva-rae Harris

Courtney Young

Kimiora Reihana Te Momo

Jennifer Sayasinh

an impostor to her memories

April 2019

Digital medium format photograph

on Smooth Pearl print 594 x 841mm

"I am an imposter to this land, I am an imposter to my people, and I am an imposter the memories of a little girl named Lindsey who died in Cape Town."

an imposter to her memories is a self-portrait responding to the painting Girl With The Pearl Earrings by Johannes Vermeer. The photograph explores issues surrounding the artists socio-political ethnicity of being "Cape Coloured".

This work is a part of a greater project, red-brick paving, where she navigates the routes to her post-colonial indigenous roots. Within the work, she activates spaces of memory and culture. By exposing the indoctrinations and propaganda of the western gaze, and validating the distant oppressed memories of her childhood. All in the name of reclaiming the appropriated Dashiki and the "swirlkous" (head-wrap).


Erasmus, Zimitri. 2017. Race Otherwise : Forging a New Humanism for South Africa. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.


What is the work, and who is it for?

The work is a self-portrait of the artist wearing a counterfeit traditional African dashiki (top garment), and a swirlkous (head-wrap to maintain straight hair) on her head. As she directly addresses the camera and reverts the gaze.

This work is made for audiences within and out of her cultural context, as the work challenges issues surrounding cultural authenticity and the cyclic nature of the western gaze In a fragile community; fragile to histories of rape, violence, and propaganda.

What are the significant components of the photograph?

The swirlkous - is a stocking with the legs cut off, leaving only a piece of the thigh with one end knotted. A swirlkous is a head-wrap to put on after hair has been ironed or blown straight with applied heat. The swirlkous is then put on in order to maintain the straight hair. This was introduced by the black and coloured community, as this process is not needed for European hair. The name itself is from Kaapse Afrikaans another dialect of Afrikaans, predominantly used by coloured South Africans. By addressing this process, the artist is reflecting on the histories of imposed colonial beliefs of beauty, which sits alongside skin bleaching, straight perms, and ladylike notions.

By wearing the swirlkous as a performance, the artist is reclaiming that history and expressing cultural memory. The process of knowing and using a swirlkous belongs to the coloured community, those outside it would not know it. So the artist further challenges any questioning of having to prove her African-ness. She utilises the performance of memory in order to enact her cultural space.

The Dashiki - is a traditional West African attire, commonly worn at weddings. Due to the rhizomatic nature of tribes and colonies within Africa, the Dashiki has great significance to "a claiming of culture within space" in South Africa. However, with most indigenous communities, their aesthetically pleasing cultural iconographies have been appropriated as tourists collectables. There are similar ideas surrounding Thailand and indophilia (the fetishisation of India). By the artist wearing the counterfeit Dashiki she is directly addressing the history of the dress and how the nature of it eludes the cultural stigmas that are laid upon the artist and her skin.

What narratives or discourses is the work addressing?

Cultural authenticity - who decides it? How is it gained?Reclaiming of oppressed memories - through lived experiences and those of our ancestors (storytelling).African appropriation - the exotification of African culture, especially as it is now reaching its peak in pop-culture.Reclaiming of western idealisation forced upon African communities as a performance of racism and western propaganda.Reverting the male gaze.

How will the work be read in a global context?

Without context to the work, I think the viewers' initial response to the work would stem from confusion. At first glance, the work superficially would seem as though a white-passing woman is claiming an African culture. Which would instead of challenges issues surrounding white saviour complex and white passing, it would serve those notions.

However, aside from the cultural aspect, the work still reverts the male gaze. The artist is not serving any gestural elements that would make her attractive according to western standards, which continues to reinforce the reclaiming of cultural space. So if anything the statement will offer cultural grounds, so that the viewer can connect the denial of western standards as a form of decolonisation and cultural reclamation.

How will the title of the work effect the reading of it?

The title will bring a personal element to the work. It connotes to lived experiences and an untold history; that is preserved by the artists and instigates questioning for the viewer. Who is her? What are her memories? Is the artist the imposter, and if so why?


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