The (re)imagined self in Leora Farber’s series Dis-Location/Re-Location (2004-2007)
This research investigates how contemporary South African artist Leora Farber’s manipulated photographic series Dis-Location/Re-Location (2004-2007) visually articulates a simulacral settler-colonial narrative. More specifically, this study contends that Farber – in the dual role of creator and body-protagonist of the series – uses postcolonial discourse questionably to create an imagined postcolonial self based on her settler-colonial double. This study theoretically employs postcolonialism and Baudrillard’s conceptualisation of the simulacrum in order to illustrate and substantiate this contention. In the theoretical chapters of this thesis, I show, first, how Farber’s use of key postcolonial terms like otherness, hybridity and liminality differs from their paradigmatic use in postcolonial theory and, second, how Baudrillard’s theory of the simulacrum may be brought to bear on understanding the processes of signification at work in Dis-Location/Re-Location. This study does in no way aim to question the material “loss of the real” in Farber’s series Dis-Location/Re-Location, but rather aims to investigate the nature of the simulated real as a means to contribute to the untapped, critical, interpretative possibilities of the series and its three sub-narratives Aloerosa, Ties that Bind Her and A Room of Her Own. The imagined self in the series is fabricated out of three narratives of displacement as extrapolated from the experiences of three white Jewish women: Bertha Guttmann, Freda Kagan and Farber herself. Guttmann relocated from England to the then ZAR in 1885 for a (possibly) arranged marriage to Jewish entrepreneur, Sammy Marks. Farber’s Jewish immigrant mother, Kagan, arrived in the then Union of South Africa in 1935 with her family, after they escaped the rising anti-Semitic persecution in Latvia. While Farber enacts Guttmann’s life-world, in neo-Victorian fashion, throughout the series by recreating and counterfeiting a Victorian real, Kagan remains a shadowy presence serving mainly as Guttmann and Farber’s go-between. This allows Farber to frame her own sense of displacement as a white woman in post-apartheid South Africa, and in the changing “African metropolis of Johannesburg” in particular, in terms of Guttmann’s settler-colonial and Kagan’s Jewish diasporic identity. Farber hereby seems to suggest – rather problematically – that her own sense of displacement in post-apartheid South Africa can be compared to that experienced by Guttmann and Kagan. In the series, the central visual metaphor for displacement is the graft, which Farber deploys in both a botanical and medical-biological sense. My analysis of the imagery in the series shows how the unfolding process of grafting, as depicted in the series, can be read in terms of the metamorphosis of Farber’s (re)imagined self. I argue that this process can be understood in terms of Baudrillard’s orders of signification (from the ambivalent self, to the mutable self and finally to the simulated death of self), but also that the metamorphosis is problematically embedded in colonial understandings of the relationship between self and other. The colonial subject, in Farber’s depiction, confronts the other as “exotic”, and this is visualised in the series by the violent implantation of so-called indigenous African signifiers such as aloe succulents or beads into the protagonist’s white skin. The graft, however, does not seem viable as it subsumes the white body. My critical analysis suggests that the (re)imagined protagonist, represented in a colonial-settler landscape, indicates a simulacral reality. The photographic series – as a simulacrum – becomes an endless liminal state as the protagonist ceremonially continues the grafting in an attempt to belong in the foreign. In contrast to Bhabha’s (1994) description of the liminal as an enunciating state, the liminal in Dis-Location/Re-Location becomes an oppressive, hyperreal space rooted in a continuous proclamation of (un)belonging. This simulacral reality, although informed by and articulated through postcolonial theory, perpetuates a colonial reality, rather than enabling a postcolonial narrative.
- Humanities