The catalyst of millions of arrests, fervent protests, and a police-led massacre, the passbook is a haunting relic of apartheid South Africa. Operating as a colonial appendage to be carried, tucked away, and presented to police on demand, these pocket-sized identification books radically constrained the mobility and selfhood of Black South Africans. They also gesture toward a perhaps unanticipated symptom of South Africa’s democratic turn: the issue of confronting the stuff of apartheid, the archival debris left over from a system reliant on exhaustive administrative documentation to surveil and compel its subjects. This article contends with the material status of the passbook, examining legacies of haptic contestation enacted upon it in protest alongside a close study of Apartheid Scrolls (1995), a series of intaglio photo-etchings by South African artist Rudzani Nemasetoni, derived from the pages of his father’s thirty-year-old passbook. Tearing, collaging, flattening, printing, Xeroxing, and reconfiguring the document, Nemasetoni signals the fundamental instability of the passbook and the potential to upheave its function, composition, and materiality, and in doing so, joins a lineage of actions that deconstruct and delegitimize the object. Passbooks did not disappear with the abolition of pass laws nor at the end of apartheid. Preserved in institutional and personal archives, thrown in trash heaps, stored in drawers and closets, or configured anew in art, they survive as objects to be faced and contended with. Nemasetoni’s Apartheid Scrolls offers one such way.
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Research Article| November 01 2022
The Passbook, Deconstructed: Rudzani Nemasetoni’s Apartheid Scrolls
Nka (2022) 2022 (51): 34–46.
Quinn Schoen; The Passbook, Deconstructed: Rudzani Nemasetoni’s Apartheid Scrolls. Nka 1 November 2022; 2022 (51): 34–46. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10757163-10127139
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