Mixed Media Printing, folding, and pinning the past

Printing, folding, and pinning the past

“Human beings are very cruel,” says Keith Dietrich as he stands before his exhibition, Fragile Histories, Fugitive Lives. Behind Dietrich, a muted triptych titled Book Two recalls the atrocities and crimes of the colonial era with prints, folds, and pins. It’s beautiful. The middle frame shows a Muslim woman whose torso is dissected by a pinned paper rosette. Rays of printed text emit from the centre of the rosette, where a biological drawing of a heart is suspended in white space. The frames on either side of the figure contain identical origami rosettes and anatomical illustrations of the female and male genitals.

Keith Dietrich’s exhibition in the Monument includes an artbook that measures 25m. Photo: Greg Roxburgh.

Keith Dietrich’s exhibition in the Monument includes
an artbook that measures 25m. Photo: Greg Roxburgh.

The life-size model wears a red scarf; soft lighting reveals tangible textures. The folded paper is fragile, fascinating. The anatomical illustrations mesmerise. Three similar triptychs heighten the emotional intensity of the display.

Take a step closer, tilt your head, and read the text: “Tried for desertion and the murder of fellow slaves. Sentenced to hanging.”
The black and red text on the rosettes record 1 220 court cases between 1692 and 1803, in and around the former Cape Colony. The names, dates, crimes, and sentences on dress-making patterns detail the atrocities of the colonial encounter of each trial. The fragile tracing paper and etymological pins are starkly contrasted by the lists of appalling punishments, which range from public flogging and pinching with hot tongs to dismemberment, impalement and decapitation.
Step away, and notice how each triptych represents a unique group of people from the colonial past. “There is the white European coloniser, a man with Khoi ancestry, a woman, and a hybrid who represents the slave populations,” says Dietrich, pointing to the figures juxtaposed with the rosettes. The punishments record the suffering imposed on human beings by official court orders.

Ultimately, the contrast between photographed flesh and printed punishments is a vulnerable image of a violent history – a history that Dietrich’s art attempts to reconcile.

Ntsikana Gallery,
daily, 9am – 6pm

Sarah Rose de Villiers

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