Rights of Passage

Performance | 1997

Commissioned by the 1997Johannesburg Biennale.

Rights of Passage is a site-specific performance about race,  space and power in the post-apartheid era. It is about the difficulties  that post-apartheid, postcolonial and post-segregationist societies face in negotiating the daily-life realities of interracial  interaction in real time and space. It is about how vestiges of dismantled legal systems surface in sublimated forms.

Rights of Passage is about the actual terror that  nonconsensual, incidental interracial enters still generate. It is about how South Africa’s “past” is currently managed via romantic  commodification. This packaging of Blackness, whether it be constructed as a precolonial African identity for tourists, a folkloric preservation  of non-hybridized tradition, or a sanitized version of township life, is one of the many socio-cultural mechanisms of repression that characterize con temporary post-apartheid culture.  

The Rights of Passage passbooks serve as evidence of payment for entry to the Biennale, an artist’s “multiple”, and a document of the  performance. The “passbook” is reminder of the history of apartheid our ambivalent attraction to that past, and of commodification for tourism. One might ask what it is involved in being  able to “objectify” apartheid as a part of the past, and whether the frequent bandying of the notion of “post-apartheid” does not at times serve to deviate attention to the actual presence of segregation. Even the most horrifying historical circumstances  (apartheid) can function as a point of attraction, and ultimately, a lure for global capital investment.