Apartheid porn

2014-06-15 15:00

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Pieces of the fence from Robben Island are now ­fashion accessories. ­Gugulethu Mhlungu says no

After losing its battle against the harsh elements of the Atlantic Sea, the 3m-high fence surrounding the prison of ­Robben Island was torn down in 2009 and was set to be disposed of as scrap metal.

But Cape Town artist Christopher Swift saw it ­being loaded ­on to a truck and rushed to negotiate­ to take it.

Swift used most of the fence to create artworks, which include a star mounted on Signal Hill.

The Robben Island Fence ­Initiative, which includes artists Swift, Marc Alexander, Chantell Potgieter and the Robben ­Island Arts Company and Trust (the company formed to be the custodian of the fence) offers the opportunity for private ownership of a “unique historical artefact”, some of which does and does not include part of the fence.

There are different items available through the initiative, and in very limited quantities.

These limited-edition items include artworks and framed pictures of Robben Island’s most famous inmate, Nelson Mandela, as well as other famous ­human rights activists such as Desmond Tutu, Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa.

Each item is said to be unique and has a special number. The buyer gets a password and can authenticate the piece of fence online. Buyers also receive a certificate of authenticity.

Now Cape Town jeweller Charmaine Taylor has chopped bits of the fence up, coated the pieces in gold and silver, and turned them into bespoke jewellery that sells for R2?600 to R8?400 a piece.

She was given rights by the Robben Island Fence Initiative to design artworks and have exclusive rights to create jewellery with the fence last year.

Her jewellery has attracted celebrity interest, with the likes of Paula Abdul said to own items fashioned from the fence.

Taylor also has a new XX Freedom Collection. Each piece will have two Xs for 20 years of freedom (XX is 20 in Roman numerals). She donates a percentage of profits to both the Nelson Mandela Foundation and Abalimi Bezekhaya, which teaches organic farming in Cape Town townships.

While the artists involved claim this is a labour of love, it is very difficult to not feel like this is yet another commodification of our history.

In fact, this is almost like apartheid porn, where any bit of memorabilia associated with our history of oppression is turned into a cash cow. Sickening.

Visit robbenislandfence.com or legacycollection.org for more info

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