Philological Reversion in Post-Apartheid South Africa: The Sand Writing and Alternate Alphabets of Willem Boshoff

In: Philological Encounters
Kurt Campbell University of Cape Town

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This article focuses on the conceptual implications of specific works of contemporary artist and wordsmith Adriaan Willem Boshoff. Boshoff uses his creations to challenge the terms of the current debate around indigenous languages in southern Africa through artworks such as Blind Alphabet and his Sand Writing Series. These works call viewers to an emphatic return to an understanding of scripts (and the worlds they produce) as embodied systems of tradition that occupy the central place not only in the groups they serve, but indeed in a larger vision of a culturally tolerant and affirmative nation. The article tracks key South African educational policies such as the Apartheid era Bantu Education Act of 1953, and the Corrective Language Act of 1998 after the first democratic elections to contextualize the politics of legislative development in South Africa as related to indigenous scripts and languages. Beyond this bureaucratic history, the article foregrounds partisan agency that individuals such as Wilhelm Bleek, Lucy Lloyd and Magrieta Jantjies displayed as custodians of endangered scripts and languages, culminating in a discussion of the provocative works Boshoff created to stimulate critical thought on contemporaneous philological concerns in South Africa.

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