Christine Dixie depicts (sometimes in unexpected, and also metaphorical, ways) the Eastern cape landscape where
she grew up. This area was settled and farmed by waves of newly-arrived Europeans, from the early 1800s. They settled there, having embarked on long process of severely subduing the original inhabitants, who were mostly driven out or killed during many years of battles.
Dixie’s Bloodspoor shows how the frontier policies of the early settlers left their marks on the land. Dixie explained that in making these images, “I was thinking about my place within that history, and of how my 1820-Settler ancestors were to some extent responsible for the violence that took place in the region.”
It is a landscape that has been depicted by artists, since the first settlers arrived. But not many of them revealed the subjugation and pain behind the beautiful, picturesque views.
Talk About This
Examine each image below carefully. Read the questions below, but do not limit yourselves to those. You should have your own questions to ask, and different images that you want to ask about. (You may also want to read more about the Frontier Wars and of the history of the early eastern Cape.) There are complex ideas contained here; some of the images might be read on several levels. For example, they can be read as as simply showing a physical place, simply what the artist sees; but they can also be read as having another underlying meaning. And they can be both of those – at the same time.
Each of you choose two images to think about. Here are some examples of questions you could ask: but each will raise different questions.
As our example, let’s consider the image called Request, Nieu Bethesda. In it, we are looking out through an old farmhouse window.
There is a landscape-drawing shown in this room (a picture within a picture), pinned to the wall on the left of the window. Talk about the contrast between that pictured landscape and the real one outside the window. Why has the artist included that picture in the bigger image?
Consider the composition, the way the image is arranged on the page: the space ranges from extremely close to extremely distant. Where does this view place you, the viewer? Does this position make you feel confined, or fearful, or do you feel protected? Or another sensation altogether? Why?
For the artwork Mortgage Bond, Dixie printed the woodcut image onto an original mortgage bond certificate. This certificate, issued by the Cape government in 1885, was the document that her great-great-grandparents’ family used to procure this land.
Home shows Dixie’s grandfather as a little boy. “Posed in the manner of a sentry and holding a toy rifle he is positioned in front of a series of potted plants – as if he were somehow…to guard this site of nature domesticated.” (Walters and Schmahmann)
The view on The Great Kei is obscured from us by a settler farmer: so that we see the landscape only as though through his eyes. How does this affect how we view it? What do you think he is searching for?
Where are you, the viewer, positioned in the image Watchtower, Fort Frazer? How does this make you experience that image? What would be the purpose of a watchtower?