n Image & Text : a Journal for Design - Subverting the pastoral in Jane Alexander's Pastoral Scene

Volume 31 Number 1
  • ISSN : 1020-1491


This article discusses how the four figures in Jane Alexander’s sculptural installation Pastoral Scene (1995) – the “domestic worker”, the nursing “Black Madonna”, the “white widow” and the lactating wild dog – may be seen to subvert the colonial role that domestic workers perform within the suburban home and landscape. The article delves with more sustained attention than has hitherto been given into some of the visual histories in relation to this tableau, specifically a colonial- and apartheid-era pastoralism that framed landscape conventions and servant portraiture. The article discusses how black African women, when represented as servants in landscapes, function to delineate a space that may be determined by a Europeanised artistic sensibility. Alexander’s tableau subverts these anxieties, and the obfuscation of labour and presence that results, by centering the segregation, migration, urbanisation and disconnection that frequently arises out of South Africa’s socio-political realities. Returning to this work, produced during the formative time of South Africa’s sociopolitical transition in the 1990s, allows for the examination of Alexander’s characteristically riddling allegories but also of her allusive, wide-reaching method of enquiry into a subject – paid domestic labour – that remains woven, frequently in the most challenging and complex ways, into the national psyche and way of life.

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