Unfinished man : questioning difference through the pictorial recontextualisation of socio-medical documents

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

In this dissertation and series of paintings I wish to focus attention on the interconnection between knowledge and power. This is commented on in relation to socio-medical disciplines. The argument proposes that knowledge is a product of vested interests and should thus not be regarded as transcendent of the context in which it is used. This study examines attempts to naturalize race, class and gender through scrutiny and analyses of the human body. Section One considers specific historical cases which illustrate the use of knowledge as a disciplinary force. Surveillance, classification, objectification and an understanding of science as neutral are identified as central to the construction of difference. These themes are investigated with regard to: Lavater's physiognomy, Charcot's understanding of hysteria, the influence of photography on nineteenth century science, eugenics, degenerationism and racial definitions in South African law from 1948 to 1994. This section draws on scholarship and research published predominantly in the areas of sociology, medical history, anthropology and ethnology. Section One is intended as a parallel text to the series of paintings produced. Section Two offers a personal interpretation of some trends, methods and materials used throughout the series of paintings. The paintings comment on the themes of classification, objectification and discrimination mentioned in Section One. The series also reflects on the mutability of knowledge and the continuing relevance of past doctrines. Primary strategies employed in the paintings are decontextualization and recontextualization of pre-existent texts, an emphasis on aesthetics and attempts to involve the viewer in the acts of looking and interpretation. Section Three consists of reproductions of the twenty paintings made for a Masters of Fine Art degree. Sources and processes used in the paintings are listed.

Bibliography: leaves 75-80.