St Helena Dream

Cobus van Bosch

Die Probleem van Geheue (The Problem of Memory)

How do you "remember" an event which happened more than a hundred years ago, even a catastrophe as devastating as the Anglo Boer War (1899-1902)?

Today very few of the scars of the ABW seem to remain on the South African landscape and psyche, especially after a century of radical political and social change. One may even go as far as to question the relevance of the ABW today.


Soldier

St Helena

Soldier

The painter Cobus van Bosch, born sixty years after the end of the war, has attempted with forty oil paintings a visual resurrection of the war and its impact. In the process he was confronted by the problematics of re-telling, morality, experience and, especially, memory.

In short: while a picture may paint more than a thousand words, it's still impossible to offer a "balanced" view of the ABW, even with forty paintings. Therefore Van Bosch changed tack halfway through the project and became a "subjective witness" rather than a "visual historian".

"While I perused history books and searched through thousands of photographs, I gradually realised I had little personal reference to the events of the war," Van Bosch says. "I simply wasn‘t there when it happened, and therefore have no real memories of it."

"But I could identify with the expressions on the faces, the body language of combatants and the suffering, and the mood of scarred landscapes. I remember that from the apartheid era."


Untitled

Bittereinders

Untitled

"One thing about memory is that we tend to gradually forget the details of an event, but seldom its emotional impact. You always remember how something made you feel," Van Bosch says. "The images from the ABW which left a lasting impression on me weren‘t those of posturing generals and victorious soldiers, but rather views of ragged Boers and Englishmen in unguarded moments, or of unfortunate civilians, black and white, who were bruised by the war machine."

The exhibition focuses strongly on portraits, inspired by photographs from the time. Van Bosch chose images which made an emotional impression on him, rather than trying to teach a history lesson. The offering is nevertheless comprehensive, with portraits ranging from those of young British soldiers, condemned Cape Rebels and captured children, to black blockhouse guards, trackers, spies and more.

However, several works in the exhibition are comprised of collages from different photographs, constructing fictional tableaux with new contexts and meanings, often enigmatic, even bizarre.

"A painting depicting two Boers playing games in the ball room of Groote Schuur (erstwhile residence of Cecil Rhodes), is obviously not historically correct, but offers opportunity for interesting interpretations regarding motives for the war," Van Bosch adds.


Field Operation

Spies

Soldiers

 He maintains the exhibition is not a re-telling of the ABW, but rather an interpretation of, and response to the psychological impact photographs from the era had on him. These images lingered in his mind's eye, where often, due to the fallibility of memory, they metamorphosized into new and seemingly absurd "memories" which may or may not agree with "official versions" of the war.


Wounded

Memory


Ghillie

** The exhibition "The Problem of Memory" is a continuation of a similarly titled painting project which was started early in 2014. Previous works were shown last year in the William Humphreys Gallery in Kimberley and at the North West University in Potchefstroom. Earlier this year a group of paintings focusing exclusively on the ABW was exhibited at the Woordfees in Stellenbosch. Several new works were added to this series for a comprehesive solo exhibition opening on 10 October at the Anglo Boer War Museum in Bloemfontein (until 31 January 2016).

 

 
Click on thumbnails to enlarge
 


Groote Schuur Games


Mag

Boer Sports and Straw Puppets

Untitled
 
 

Blockhouse Guard

Tracker

Prisoner

Tracker

Captured Child Soldier

Untitled


Spy


St Helena Trek
Blockhouse Guard


Untitled


Captured Child Soldier

Jan Ruiter

Spy

Prisoner

Captured Child Soldier

British Officer

Prisoner

Captured Child Soldier

Prisoner

War Horses

Prisoners

Whipped

Rebels