The child’s room was wrapped around like an English fairy tale in a collection of old books, embroideries, and the childish and childlike creations of four generations.
The slanting afternoon sunlight rested on falling rose petals, dusty old toys and the ancient patchwork bedspread sewn around now crumpled bits of a hundred year old newspaper (originally folded hexagon templates). Unseen but present are the shed skin cells, offered up by my great grandmother (now floating out from the rents in the fabric) as she sewed together scraps from many worn-out dresses, floral school uniforms and fondly remembered offcuts.
The ceramic works in this room and of this period were mostly carefree and illustrative or allegorical – made in the 1980s in direct response to all that was not ‘allowed’ in the hallowed halls of the art world of the university I had so recently left. It was nostalgic, tongue-in-cheek, recklessly decorative sometimes and in a characteristically ‘English’ tone of understatement – full of not such beautiful allusion.
The main allusions had to do with the narrative of nurture and the codes of care shown in different ways by women to and by their children over the last one hundred years in a typically ‘English’ South African home.
Questions of gender and racial attitudes were present in some of the books laid out and the choice of toys on the bed.
The room holds the spell of memory and a restrained reckoning of the truth of how things were.