Words can be such pricks: the wild, piercing randomness of meaning

Willem Boshoff spins webs of reference using his signature materials, letters

10 May 2021 - 20:09 By Hans Pienaar

Some time ago a funny T-shirt did the rounds: “Praat Afrikaans of Hou Jou Bek.” On face value here was an expression of rabid right-wing extremism, but the joke is really on the wearer. The person standing silently in front of him or her, are they obeying the instruction, or do they just not understand Afrikaans? And if someone starts speaking to them politely in English, are they bamboozling or mollycoddling them? 

It is a kind of interactive demonstration of the instabilities of identity, for both wearer and watcher. In a similar vein, Willem Boshoff flips the coin of what some would call whiteness already in the title of his latest exhibition, a not-quite-retrospective curated by Helene Smuts. Word Woes sounds wordsworthy in English, in Afrikaans decidedly uncouth: Get Wild. It could emanate from the identity fluctuations of many white South Africans with an English ouma or an Afrikaans granny in the cupboard; among black South Africans brought up in the two languages, the tension will be different but nevertheless there...

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