n Image & Text : a Journal for Design - Treating the body of witness : medical understanding in William Kentridge's

Volume 2011, Issue 18
  • ISSN : 1020-1491



William Kentridge's (1996) renders its main character, the industrialist Soho Eckstein, in a comatose state as doctors labour to diagnose him. This article reads Kentridge's use of CT Scans and X-rays in the film as a metaphor for the diagnosis of apartheid narrated through South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Using Barry Saunder's (2008) reading of the ambiguity in radiological diagnosis, this essay argues that the diagnostic tools in locate a similar state of ambiguity in the TRC. Throughout the film several red X's are marked upon the surface of these diagnostic images, denoting spaces of uncertainty, leading the viewer to flashbacks whose narratives of guilt and complicity are uncertain. To read through these ambiguities undermines what Mark Sanders (2007) termed the 'quasi-legal' domain of the TRC while uncovering narratives of apartheid that fall outside of the TRC's scope. Like the X-ray's stark black and white format, which serves as a legal document of bodily harm, the TRC encodes a juridical and singular narrative of the TRC. Instead these ambiguities narrate spaces outside of the main complaint that in themselves may be more illuminating of the legacies of apartheid in South Africa.

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