It will Blow Over

There was a small boy from Bombay
Who once from a hen ran away.
When they said: ‘You’re a baby,’
He replied: ‘Well, I may be:
But I don’t like these hens of Bombay.’
Rudyard Kipling (1937:4)

Kipling cites the above limerick as a response by his father when retelling a tragic event from his childhood: one day alone, whilst passing the edge of a huge, foot-deep ravine, a winged monster as big as himself attacked him; he fled crying (Kipling 1937:4). It is with this sense of bathos and dramatic irony, illustrated by the retelling of Kipling’s childhood trauma and his father’s benevolent belittling of the event, which one is immediately confronted with when approaching the body of work that Zach Taljaard has produced. Whether looking at his sculpted children, toys or adult figures a visual tension presents itself which is both pointed and ambivalent, creating an identification in the viewer with the playful innocence of his objects and yet an almost painful awareness that all is not right.
Scripted across the familiar situations and objects of childhood and growing up, one gets the impression of an artist who is not entirely comfortable with the expectations of society and the processes of becoming an adult. These processes, Taljaard repeatedly asserts are intrinsically violent. In a response to the damage caused by a member of the public to his interactive commemorative sculpture Freedom to Dream1 on Eastern Beach in East London, Taljaard states:
‘that’s something that I use in my art as a theme… being trained into becoming a role and the violence that goes into the process of becoming, and funnily enough that this boy got smashed. People are violent, makes it quite…it’s horrible to say it’s appropriate but it falls into things I am looking at in my art, trying to open people’s eyes to’ (interview: 34).
This begs the question: if the expectations of society and the processes of growing up are indeed, as so vividly demonstrated by the sculpture of a small boy being hit with a bottle, acts of violence, how is this explored in Taljaard’s work?

Zach Taljaard’s work first entered the public domain whilst still an undergraduate student at the University of Pretoria. In 1999, Mating Call 1 was exhibited and subsequently bought by MTN at the ‘Babel Tower’ MTN/ Erricson group show. This piece, two ceramic doves that are hooded with their wings clipped and placed on separate bases, not only signifies the difficulties and miscommunication associated with human discourses but is also described as representing different genders (Hobbs 2006:237). These are ascribed to colour differences (a dark grey ceramic is used to signify the masculine whilst a lighter, crackled surface signifies the feminine) as well as the inclusion of other signifiers of gender such as the incorporation of nylon pantyhose, a dressmaker’s pin and a garment’s laundry label (Hobbs 2006:237, 240).
It is impossible to separate notions of gendered identity in readings of Taljaard’s work. Taljaard argues, ‘I sort of see gender, I suppose in everything that moves (laughs) so I read these mediums as gender based or as a starting point for preconceived ideas of what this medium is for’ (Interview: 36). Not only does gender manifest in the materials that Taljaard chooses to work with, but figures embodying various ideals of masculine identity are a consistent feature throughout his body of work so far. These identities are interrogated and subverted somewhat by Taljaard being identified as an Afrikaans, gay man. An aspect of Taljaard’s work that compounds the importance of identity is that all his pieces are in someway self-portraits: either physical representations of himself or based on personal experiences and emotions surrounding those experiences.
Growing up in the small town of Christiana, on the banks of the Vaal River, Taljaard asserts that his conservative, Afrikaans heritage is a fundamental starting point when examining his work. His mother, a librarian, and his father, a mechanic/entrepreneur: represent the typical gendered binaries associated with the Afrikaner national identity during the Apartheid era. Taljaard’s disassociation with the expected processes of ‘becoming a man’ within this system has led to a systematic interrogation of these ideals: questioning not so much where he fits into the system but more the objects and structures embedded within the system which, entrenched in the growing up process, violently mould and perpetuate the gendered stereotype. Can it be argued that, through an interrogation of these structures and objects, violence in its explicit and implicit forms is manifest in Zach Taljaard’s work?

power-n. 1. the ability to do something or act in a particular way 2. the capacity to influence the behaviour of others, the emotions, or the course of events 3. a right or authority given or delegated to a person or body 4. physical strength or force.
South African Concise Oxford Dictionary (2007:995)

It is with a sense of sad nostalgia that Taljaard recalls his motivation behind the piece central to his graduate exhibition in 2000. It will blow over represents a life-size, young boy (probably 7 or 8 years old), standing, pulling his arms back- on each hand he is wearing boxing gloves. Based on an old photograph taken by his father, Taljaard describes the boy as, ‘blushing in his face being quite embarrassed at being in a position to have to wear, or have to fight and being in a position which is considered normal for other people, just a normal reaction as a male’ (Interview: 36).

‘Normalcy’ in the fraught arena of identity politics is a theme that Taljaard often plays with. Toying with the perceived natural binaries of male and female, and their related descriptions ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’: he playfully interrogates the expectations of society which have been shown to be socially constructed, inextricably linked to structures of power within society and historically determined (Haviland et al 2005: 415). The manifestations of behaviours associated with sex roles are not biologically fixed and indeed, the fluid nature of gender can be appreciated to a greater extent if Butler’s (1999) description of gender in terms of ‘performativity’ is employed. By that it is meant that gender is constructed through the performance of actions: ‘the repetition of everyday acts and regulatory practices which reaffirm sexual difference and create a sense of coherence’ (Butler cited in Bradley 2007:74). In this way, gender becomes a theatrical spectacle: in order to make sense of one’s self in relation to society, actions are scripted onto the body that are read in accordance with the expectations placed on that body by society.
But how is sculpture as a medium of expression, performative of gender?
Claudette Schreuders describes her work as being narrative. ‘It’s portraiture, but it’s a vehicle for telling a particular story, or the way in which society makes people who they are’ (Williamson 20002). Schreuders, an erstwhile lecturer of Taljaard’s, has no doubt had a particular influence on the production of the artist and a sense of narrative is evident, particularly in Taljaard’s figures of children. These form the dominant subjects in pieces made during and immediately after the artist’s university training. Choosing moments of transition where the pieces seem to be on the brink of some kind of action, a dual narrative is set up that, on the one hand invites the viewer to contemplate the characters’ specific histories and what circumstances led to their present incarnation; and on the other, it allows for the imaginary continuation of the narrative into the future, leaving the viewer implicit in creating likely resolutions based on their own experiences. The theatricality of the narrative becomes performative of gender in that props used inform our own preconceptions and expectations as to the ‘everyday acts’ available to the character, and are projected onto the figure to be read accordingly.

Theatrical characteristics presented by the scenario of It will blow over, are indeed aspects that the artist uses to interrogate the assumptions and expectations of gender. The boy is either coming from fighting or on his way towards a confrontation, one which he clearly is not wanting to participate in. The over-sized boxing gloves are not his, they are too big for him and the viewer cannot but perceive the presence of another, more powerful than the boy. This presence, one would assume to be a father figure, as the piece presents the boxing gloves and the violence associated with these objects as masculine ideals. These objects serve as an anchor for the boy: both as a psychic anchor for his sense of self, orienting the actions of his sex towards a particular model of masculine behaviour; as well as a weight against which he is struggling (Gilmore 2001:208).
The struggle presented by the boy, against the expectation of a specific kind of behaviour is framed by what Connell, Carrigan and Lee (2002:110) term hegemonic masculinity3. Hegemonic masculinity, as Connell (2002: 245) points out, is not fixed and it is always contested by marginal and acquiescent masculinities. Historically, various forms of masculine identity have been ascendant.

The antagonistic nature of this tussle for power is often evident in points of visual tension created by Taljaard and can be seen as exemplary in the direct confrontation/ conciliation explored in The Kiss. This installation, exhibited as part of Taljaard’s 2006 solo exhibition CON/FRONT as well as the Sun City Posi+ive project of the same year, consists of two figures facing each other (one resembling the Greek Apollo and the other a GI Joe action figure) and brings into sharp relief the changing nature of how ascendant masculine identities are physically inscribed upon the male body.

Apollo was the Greek god of poetry, prophesy and the art of healing, these virtues are considered decidedly feminine in relation to contemporary ideals, but Apollo represented for the ancient Greeks the embodiment of perfection and youthful manhood (Room 1999:41). The ideal Athenian youth, as Roisman (2005:12) points out, exhibited the same qualities expected from an adult: ‘they took an oath that emphasized the virtues of conformity, competitiveness, cooperation, discipline and obedience in the military, civic and religious spheres’ (Roisman 2005:12). These would seem to be at odds with the ‘macho’ qualities (‘tough, self-reliant, controlling, aggressive and fiercely heterosexual’) exhibited by GI Joe, however, both represent particularly militarized forms of masculine identity and a tension exists as to whether this would be a peaceful embrace or a violent conflict (Bradley 2007:47)

The ambivalence created by the postures, proximity and relative masculinities embodied within the figures is further complicated by the inclusion of the artist’s face on both sculptures. This raises the importance of Taljaard’s own masculine identification and brings into question, obvious homoerotic nuances in the work. Masculinity has, since the time of Freud, come to be understood as structured developmentally around a continuous rejection of the feminine: the conflation of male homosexuality with effeminacy effectively negates this and thus the antagonism which exists between heterosexual and homosexual masculine identities becomes central to the process around which contemporary hegemonic masculinity operates (Kimmel 2001:273). Any position that opposes dominant masculine values are disavowed and feminised in a way similar to homosexual identities. By reconciling the opposing ideals within representations of himself, a schizophrenic sense of self is projected, proposing a masculine identity encompassing both feminine and masculine attributes. These are at odds with each other and the world around them, but does this internal conflict project a violent image?

Learning to Shoot
Bang! Bang!
You shot me down.
Bang! Bang!
I hit the ground.
Bang! Bang!
That awful sound.
Bang! Bang!
My baby shot me down.
Extract from ‘Bang Bang (my baby shot me down)’ (Nancy Sinatra 1972)

By housing the installation in the Magazine Room of Fort Selwyn, a relic of the Anglo-Boer war overlooking Grahamstown, an immediate connection can be made between questions surrounding masculine identity and the expectation of war. Indeed, one need only pick up a newspaper to perceive that, although (as discussed above) masculinity per se is socially constructed and not a biological fact; violence is still statistically correlated with men. Could it be said that men are naturally prone to violence? Or do hegemonic masculinities impose the internalization and
projection of violence as a male trait?

The artist emphatically positions himself within the latter camp and questions, ‘how can you say that this is law, this is how people should be?’ (Interview: 39). The title of the exhibition, CON/FRONT, of which The Kiss was a part, positions the violence associated with masculine confrontation as a type of deception, a con to which men play the victim.
Edley and Wetherell (1996:101) argue, ‘that people acquire and perform sex-typed behaviour, like any other behaviour, through a combination of observation, imitation, indoctrination and conscious learning.’ A process that is mirrored in the techniques which Taljaard chose in the construction of his figures for the exhibition. Rat Western4 provides the analogy of the artist’s moulded figures as, ‘explor[ing] the “impressions” or “moulding” made by society on the individual.’ An interesting extension to this analogy of societal structures creating gendered expression can be made if one condiders the materials used for this sculpture. Appolo is cast in Crystacal: a fine hardened plaster, it has the polished look of marble. The figure of GI Joe has a durable plastic look and is finished in a pink and white-tinted fibreglass resin. Both materials (apart from reinforcing the historic references made by the figures) belie certain characteristics: Crystacal, far from being hewn from natural rock is derived from a chemical process and is completely man made; fibreglass is similarly produced, however its durability is tempered with its fragility and needs to be reinforced with matting on the inside. The forms represented are not only imposed upon the material by an external mould, but are reinforced from within in a manner that is not apparent to the viewer. Gender is likewise socially constructed, imposed from the outside and reinforced by self-correcting measures in order to fit into the ideal.

When interrogating constructions of gender, Edley and Wetherell (1996:101) posit the family, schooling and the media as primary, secondary and tertiary socializing agents respectively. Taking Althusser’s critique of these as operating as ‘ideological apparatuses of the state5’, normative violence becomes a salient feature when interrogating hegemonic masculinity under Apartheid. Under this system, masculine ideals were institutionalized through the myth of origin of the Afrikaner nation. The Great Trek, well known to anyone who has grown up in South Africa, conceives manliness as epitomised by the heroic patriarch who, in the face of persecution, leads his family, amidst many hardships and battles to a land promised to them by God (Hexham, I 1980:195, McClintock 1993:69). Metaphoric language associated with the imagining of the imperial journey posits a nationalism, ‘sprung from masculinized memory, masculinized humiliation and masculinized hope’ (McClintock 1993:60), and in the South African context, a masculinity locked in conflict: under perpetual threat from without and from within.

Normal masculine identity was therefore deeply connected with questions of citizenship and deviance from that norm constituted a threat to national security and violently policed. As such, the South African Defense Force can be seen to have formed an overarching, initiatory system where men asserted their masculinity, obtained institutionalized validation and obtained the rights to politically and economically participate in the civil processes of the nation (Mtebule 2001: [5]; Conway 2004:207). This system of validation and preparation of young boys for their civic responsibility of protecting the nation from threats, perceived or otherwise, filtered through the media and schooling, and as Conway (2004:208) points out, ‘everyday activities, such as sport [and I would posit compulsory schooling activities such as cadets], were inherently tied to military service, true manhood and presented as common sense.’

The historic weight of this masculine imperative is explored to a rather pessimistic conclusion in Taljaard’s piece The Damage is Done. Completed as part of a residency show at The Bag Factory in 2006, it consists of four life-size, self-portrait busts in different attire and a fifth on a television screen. Of the busts, one is shirtless, the second wears a suit; the third is clothed in an army uniform and the fourth, the robe of a Roman emperor. The television, which is displayed to the left of the shirtless bust, presents a fifth bust, cropped at the head. This is accompanied by the projection and sounds from a video arcade warplane simulator. The sounds of children can also be heard, laughing as they shoot down the enemy. The video culminates with the words “Game Over” projected across the torso of the bust and dominating the screen.

Since Roman times, portrait busts have been associated with personages of great power, emperors, statesmen and dead heroes (Poulsen 1916:54). As previously discussed, these tropes of valorization are based on a masculinized conception of nationalism and connected to conquest. An aspect that is immediately apparent is that the various accoutrements presented on the busts seem to be ill fitting and the portraits of the artist become dominated by the presence of the clothing. The inherited roles associated with masculine power seem to weigh heavy on the artist, whose shirtless portrait is eaten away at the face as if badly scarred. The elegiac tone of the title, coupled with the video projection, imparts a message of the perpetual replaying of history and of roles. The youth in their games of seemingly innocent violence, are already saddled with the histories of domination and their roles already decided

An interesting formal comparison can be made here with Wim Botha’s Generic Self-Portrait series exhibited in 2003. In this piece, Botha similarly interrogates questions of idealised masculine identity within the confines of historic president by moulding five identical self-portrait busts out of imitation marble. To each of these, he assigned the title Generic Self-Portrait of …followed by …a Statesman, …a Magnate, …a Landowner, …a hero and …an anti-hero. Hung from the ceiling, these portraits seem like authoritarian apparitions. Looking down from their lofty memorials, they stoically remind us of the ideologies of conformity and subjugation that are at once, supposedly dead, yet hold such deadly impetus to this day (Brodie 2004:66). Repeated potentially ad infinitum, their reproducibility is at once analogous to the conformity and subjugation inherent in the topic at hand as well as the ways in which these roles, as emphasized by The Damage is Done, are repeated, trained as it were through the expectations of society and the games children play.

Taljaard relates his experiences of societal expectations in terms of fear: ‘I think things like the army and rugby were always feared as a kid, having to become part of, having to take part of. And I think the army was one of maybe the biggest fears I had as a child, having to go to this place where people get trained to shoot things and kill things’ (Interview: 38). The fear of having to ‘have to’ inflict pain or it’s reciprocal, the fear of the pain and rejection inflicted upon one who dares to challenge the process.

Such awkward tension exists in other examples of Taljaard’s representations of children. Learning Experience: Lesson II (2001) places a young child (cast in cement) wearing swimming gear on top of a stool. Poised, as though ready to jump, the only thing in place to break his fall is a small red bath (also filled with cement). Next to the bath are his discarded clothes (a cadets uniform-to which the expectations of manly behaviour are firmly attached); protective goggles and a pink, flowery swimming cap have replaced these. Violence implicit within the narrative is presented as a choice the little boy has made, in discarding his badge of masculinity, in favour of the innocent joy of swimming, the viewer already knows that the little boy is going to get hurt.

It is at this point of visual tension, of playful innocence in conjunction with the knowledge of hindsight, that a sense of unease creeps into interpretations of Taljaard’s work: an underlying current which foregrounds, as Western6 put it, ‘a long adult shadow falling across the jungle gym on a hot day.’
Toying with childhood

History practising its scissor-clips In the dark,
So everything comes out in the end Missing an arm or a leg.
Still, if that’s all you’ve got To play with today…
This doll at least had a head, And its lips were red!
Extract from ‘Frightening Toys’ Charles Simic (1995:57)

The trope of childhood is one fraught with expectations, disappointment and disillusionment. Edley and Wetherell (1996:99) posit that for Freud:
‘Childhood…is a violent business full of conflict and repression, as the child learns to temper or deny his or her desires in the face of social expectations. In a very real sense, Freud saw childhood as a process of civilization in which the primitive and archaic feelings are held in check or redirected towards socially sanctioned goals.’
Apart from highlighting repression and the self-correcting measures enacted by the superego upon the id in process of developmental identity formation7, the above quotation can be seen to reflect a prevailing construction of childhood that conflates children with ‘the other’ of postcolonial discourses: the archaic, the natural, the feminized (Cazeaux 2000:492). Thus, childhood is a social category that is doubly gendered: subject to the same censure and behaviour-correcting measures of the perpetually marginalised, it also holds within it the promise of replicating the societal norms of hegemonic patriarchy if properly schooled. Nowhere are the “civilising” processes of gender construction more evident than in the public space of the playground. In an article tracing the history and trajectory of the social construction of childhood, Aitken (2001:122) moots:

Disciplined bodies in playgrounds, as part of public spectacle would induce transformation of internal identities. The public space of the playground displayed ideal male identities (‘play as the moral equivalent of war’) and female identities (the controlled display of dance, drills, song and crafts).’

Play as one of the ways in which a child learns, is a theme that is strikingly evident in Taljaard’s work. A theme that articulates the constructed nature of gender through the objects children play with.

When speaking to the artist, a recurrent reference is made to his fascination with dolls. Dolls are usually associated with the role-play of girls and in opposition to the active and rough-and-tumble play connected to the action figure, are connected to ideas of nurturing and ‘playing house’. Taljaard intimates that as a child, he often played with his sister’s dolls to the horror of those around him. The figure of the doll in some ways came to represent his rejection and exclusion by the ‘male hierarchy, or the hood, the thing that you want to belong to’ (Interview: 36).

It is perhaps an inversion of this rejection, which is broached in the ambivalent natures of Taljaard’s figures: alternatively confrontational and meek. The artist is inviting the audience to interact with his doll-like figures and in interacting realise that there is a manipulation involved: ‘as one manipulates these dolls into shapes and things, you also manipulate children into thinking things and doing things or being things’ (interview: 36).

Manipulation to this end is a theme elegantly communicated in The Match. The second of three installations, which form part of Taljaard’s CON/FRONT exhibition (discussed above), The Match combines the disembodied interaction associated with computer games with a sinister overtone of impartial controlling forces. This piece consists of a waist-high, wooden, floating platform on which, several figurines are interacting. At either end of the platform a figure stands, arms out as if controlling the figurines from a distance. Each figure has the artist’s face and those figurines placed on the platform hold props taken from Taljaard’s previous work. This not only implicates the artist as complicit within the circle of manipulation, playing puppeteer to his figures, but the disinterested expressions of the controlling figures seem to imply a larger force at work, both on the artist and that which he represents. An interesting subversion of roles becomes apparent as one notices that the figurines are naturally rendered whereas the controlling figures’ limbs are jointed like toy dolls, questioning “who or what is controlling whom?”

Corresponding with The Match and hung on a wall just behind one of the controlling figures is a work that further interrogates the roles that objects play in influencing gender formation and the range of behavioural models that are accessible as a result. Using the language and iconography of computer interfaces, Toolbar, it consists of a wooden plank to which objects found at Toys ‘R’ Us are attached. These objects include tools such as shifting spanners and screwdrivers as well as more violent tools such as knives and guns. Used to either build or inflict harm, these objects begin to take on a particularly malevolent quality when read as a compliment to The Match.

One wonders, to what end are these tools to be used within the context of small figurines interacting with each other? It would seem to preclude any non-violent outcome. In a more general sense, by limiting the objects to generic toys associated with boys and framing them within a ‘toolbox’, the Taljaard questions the limited range of objects that constitute props for the learning games of young boys.

The artist states, ‘I always question things that you put, or give, in the close vicinity of a growing or maturing brain. These objects are there to guide you in a direction that is stereotyped’ (interview: 35). The figure of GI Joe in The Kiss is an example of this par excellence; however, the gendered and potentially subversive nature of toys is often explored in more subtle ways.

Toys 1-4 presents a series of anthropomorphic objects associated with child’s play. Created in 2002 as part of an installation at the Johan Carinus Art Centre where Taljaard worked for a time as a teacher, Toys consists of a plastic motorbike, a teddy bear, a set of two balls and an inflatable swimming pool life-ring variously augmented with arms and legs.

With the exception of the plastic motorbike, all these objects would seem to be of a neutral sort, however, on closer inspection, gender is articulated in other ways that conform to societal conventions. Toy 2 (the teddy bear) is placed on a pink stool, its one leg replaced with that of a child’s, dangling limply over its platform. The pink heart emblazoned on its torso places it firmly in the category of a girl’s toy and the implication of feminine passivity is reflected in its pose. This is contrasted with the more demonstrative poses of Toy 1 (the swimming pool inflatable) and Toy 3 (the set of balls). These, associated with active play, present more masculine attributes of child’s play: the swimming pool inflatable has two arms, which hold onto its stool platform in a manner reminiscent of a superhero in mid-flight; and a single arm extending from a green and white beach ball points down at the smaller, red ball in a way that suggests denigration or a disciplining action.

The anthropomorphic nature of these objects, which the artist assures, is to demonstrate, ‘how you become part of the object and object becomes part of you’, hold within them a subversive quality (interview: 37). That which can be likened to the experience of the uncanny8 produces an ambiguous reading of these “innocent” objects. The swimming pool inflatable could embody the power and certainty of the superhero, an iconic symbol of masculine agency. However, it could also be hanging onto the stool as if being blown away; the menacing gesture of the beach ball is diminished by directional lighting’s projection of the familiar “shadow-puppet dog” of less intimidating childhood games; and the limp leg of the teddy bear as well as splayed legs, which replace the rear wheels of the plastic motorcycle in Toy 4, invites a reading of uneasy sexualization. A reading that is perhaps aided by the ambiguous social position that children occupy in South Africa9, as well as the increase in the reporting of sexually based assault in the South African media over the last ten years.

This salient trope of victimization and violence enacted upon children is most clearly reflected in Taljaard’s contribution to the Console Glass group exhibition held in Grahamstown in 2003. Utilizing imagery reminiscent Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ Untitled (Billboard) of 1991, Initiation Ritual (our little secret) evokes a sense of longing and loss epitomized by the trace of the absent human form embedded in the ruffled sheets and pillow of this sculpture. The Title Initiation Ritual coupled with the quite sinister phrase associated with the seductive manipulation and sexual victimization of children by adults (most commonly family members or friends of family) introduces the idea of loss of childhood through abuse. In a more general sense, the idea of initiation and rites of passage associated with growing up can be seen to constitute violent acts.

Although Initiation Ritual is somewhat uncharacteristic in relation to the artist’s figurative sculptures and those of toys, in that it does not propose a gendered subject; it is an allusion to violence that is applicable across the board.


I would break down at your feet
And beg forgiveness Plead with you
But I know that it’s too late
And now there’s nothing I can do
So I try to laugh about it
Cover it all up with lies
I try to laugh about it Hiding the tears in my eyes
‘cause boys don’t cry
Extract from Boys Don’t Cry, The Cure
(Smith, R; Tolhurst, L. and Dempsey, M. 1979)

Violence is an aspect that permeates all parts of life: ranging from unjust and unwarranted physical acts of force, to subtle manipulation inflicted upon individuals and groups to submit to a violent social order. With this in mind we have looked at Zach Taljaard’s production: jumping between examples of his earlier pieces representing children; his representations of objects associated with childhood and growing up; and his later installations embodying self-portraits and adult figures. More specifically, I tried to unpack Taljaard’s concerns with gender formation and how these intersect with concepts and iconography related to violence.

Using Butler’s assertion of gender as being performative and Connell’s framework of multiple and hierarchical masculinities as conceptual tools, we interrogated the normative violence associated with the constructions and maintenance of gender difference through an exploration of the narratives proposed in Taljaard’s sculptures and installations.

Of particular interest is that objects associated with growing up and learning hold significant meaning and inform the extent to which gender development is often presented as ‘innocent’ or ‘common sense’. The artist however, subverts these, to expose an underlying violence to which society is both complicit and victim to. Violence, which has shown to be a consistent theme in the body of works that Zach Taljaard has produced to date.

This text has focused on one aspect of Taljaard’s production. Through omission and selective engagement, I have followed a trend that by no means exhausts a visually exciting and textually rich body of work. It is hoped that further interrogations of Taljaard’s emphasis on space, context and materiality can be unpacked in future investigations.

1This memorial sculpture, commemorating New Year’s Day in 1986 when 10 000 people reclaimed the then ‘whites only’ zone of Eastern Beach, consisted of a life-sized, fibreglass child sitting on a bench holding a boat; looking out over the beach. Members of the public were encouraged to interact with the sculpture by utilising the bench as a rest spot or a lookout point. The public could then take photographs of themselves with the little boy to commemorate their time spent at the beach, these photographs could be submitted to a website to become part of a larger public commemoration of shared space. The sculpture was vandalised two days after it was installed: the boy’s head was beaten with a bottle and the toy boat was broken (Prince 2007:The Daily Dispatch 10, August 2007. [Online]. Available: [2008, July 14])

2 Williamson, S. 2000. A feature on an artist in the public eye-Claudette Shreuders. [Online] Available: [2008, August 11]
3 Hegemonic masculinity, by Connell’s account, does not coincide with the ‘male role’ but is a particular type of masculinity (the most dominant in the ideals of any particular society) ‘to which others- among them young, effeminate and homosexual men- are subordinated’ (Connell, Carrigan and Lee 2002:110).
4 Western, R. 2007. Zach Taljaard: A boy and his toys. [Online]. Available: [2008, June 24]
5 Althusser’s essay, ‘ideology and ideological state apparatuses (notes toward an investigation)’ critiques societal structures and institutions in terms of how they function to reinforce class difference. He posits that ideological state apparatuses including family, religion and schooling, inculcate children and adults in specific ways of thinking about their relationship to society. In this way control is maintained through self regulation (Althusser 2001 [1971])
6 Western, R. 2007. Zach Taljaard: A boy and his toys. [Online]. Available: [2008, June 24]
7 Freud created a ‘geography’ for the relationship between the conscious and unconscious mind in which unmediated unconscious desire is repressed and channeled into ‘socially sanctioned goals’ through action of an equally unconscious agent to produce a stable personality. For these tropes, he gave the names id, superego and ego respectively (Cazeaux 2000:492).
8 Sigmund Freud describes the uncanny as that which evokes a sense of dread. A disconnection that estranges the recognisable within the familiar (heimlich), promoting a sense of unease (Haughton 2003:1)
9 In his paper, Global crises of childhood: rights, justice and the unchildlike child, Aitken argues the relatively recent history that childhood as a social category has. He posits that children as desexualised and separate from adults developed in response to the changes occurring in population settlement, health technologies and the epistemic shifts of the enlightenment, these influencing factors are in a process of flux and so too are the definitions and expectations of childhood (Aitken 2001: 121-125). This argument bears particular weight within the context of South Africa where children occupy, on the one hand a disenfranchised group largely reliant on the government for protection, and on the other they have been the locus of political revolution epitomised by the 1976 Soweto riots (Ulrich 2004:5). A high incidence of child-headed households in the wake of the AIDS pandemic further complicates conceptions of childhood (Bray 2003:43).

Tony East

Bibliographic Citations
Althusser, L. 2001 [1971]. Lenin and philosophy, and other essays. New York: Monthly Review Press. Aitken, S.C. 2001. Global crises of childhood: rights, justice and the unchildlike child. Area 33(2):119-127.
[Online] Available: [2008, September 11]

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Connell, B. Carrigan, T. and Lee, J. 2002. ‘Towards a New Sociology of Masculinity.’ In R. Adams and D, Savron, eds. The Masculinities Studies Reader. Blackwell: Oxford. Pp. 99-118

Connell, R. 2002. ‘The History of Masculinity.’ In R. Adams and D, Savron, eds. The Masculinities Studies Reader.
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