n English in Africa - Emancipation and "the Great Wheel of Labour" : enduring liminality in Rayda Jacobs's (1988) and a painting of two slave women (1859) by Thomas Baines

Volume 42, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 0376-8902



On this anniversary of the Freedom Charter, we may reflect on the erasure of slavery from the national memory and remind ourselves that freedom is never absolute, always deferred. This paper suggests that by comparing the aesthetic of fragmented and incoherent afterimages of slavery at the Cape, two slave women in Rayda Jacobs's postcolonial narrative (1998) with a Thomas Baines watercolour, we may articulate these multifaceted, unstable and very different structures of subjectivity, memory and history. Jacobs's artistic re-imagining of a subsumed Muslim slave presence becomes the means towards individual self-fashioning, diasporic connection and communal liberation embodied in the transcendence of her 'romantic' protagonists (although their emancipation is deferred). Baines's ethnographic painting of two slave women aboard a ship that symbolized British imperial superiority is examined from a postcolonial vantage point, which problematizes his act of artistic representation and the instability implicit in his role as observer. In order to negotiate mutable identities and multiple realities we may juxtapose contemporary artistic expressions which strive towards communal liberation and individual self-fashioning with fragmented afterimages of slavery and oppression. In this way it becomes possible to acknowledge the "inescapable hybridity and intermixture of ideas" (Gilroy 1993, xi).

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