by Shannen L. Hill. University of Minnesota Press, June 2015. 400 p. ill. ISBN 9780816676378 (pbk,), $29.95; ISBN 9780816676361 (cl.), $105.00.
Reviewed November 2015
Mary Kandiuk, Visual Arts, Design, and Theatre Librarian, York University Libraries, email@example.com
This study traces the visual legacy of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko and Black Consciousness in South Africa. Biko, who died in 1977 from injuries sustained while in police custody, and the ideology he promoted, are examined through the lens of visual culture. Shannen L. Hill, an art historian and independent scholar in the United States, provides a thoroughly researched and fascinating account.
Using a chronological narrative, Biko's Ghost begins in 1967 with the formulation of the ideology of Black Consciousness. Hill begins by establishing a "language of aesthetics" through the examination of material culture in the 1970s, and she continues with an analysis of the portraits of Biko and Black Consciousness, specifically Biko as Statesman, Everyman, Fist, and the "Iconic Autopsy." The author also touches on influential artists such as Ezrom Legae and his series tributes to Biko, and Paul Stopforth, one of the originators of 'resistance art.' In response to scholarship that the author believes has undermined it, the publication offers visual evidence of the "efficacy of Black Consciousness;" Hill illustrates how Black Consciousness aesthetics and iconography pervaded popular graphics and print media, but also the culture of censorship and state censorship of the depiction of Biko and Black Consciousness. The book concludes with case studies in how Biko and Black Consciousness are envisioned, using Naomi Jacobson's controversial Biko monument; the first exhibition devoted entirely to Biko assembled by the Twenty Years Later Collective and hosted by the District Six Museum; the provocative Returning the Gaze project organized by the BLACK ARTS COLLECTIVE (BLAC); and acts of public marking.
Each chapter includes a detailed discussion of works expressed in both popular and professional artistic spheres, accompanied by small scale black and white images and color reproductions. Iconography is studied in a wide range of art forms including painting, graphic material, sculpture, public parks, and monuments. While described in detail, the small scale of the images makes them difficult to appreciate. In addition, there are works discussed in the text for which images have not been included. A comprehensive bibliography and notes, as well as a detailed index, accompany the work and serve as excellent resources for related material. Biko's Ghost takes its place among other works examining art and apartheid, such as John Pfeffer's Art and the End of Apartheid, with the more specific focus of locating the voice of Black Consciousness within visual expression. Highly recommended for academic libraries with collections supporting a wide range of programs.