Biko's Ghost

Biko's Ghost: The Iconography of Black Consciousness

SHANNEN L. HILL
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 392
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctt15hvz3n
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  • Book Info
    Biko's Ghost
    Book Description:

    "When you say, 'Black is Beautiful,' what in fact you are saying . . . is: Man, you are okay as you are; begin to look upon yourself as a human being." With such statements, Stephen Biko became the voice of Black Consciousness. And with Biko's brutal death in the custody of the South African police, he became a martyr, an enduring symbol of the horrors of apartheid. Through the lens of visual culture,Biko's Ghostreveals how the man and the ideology he promoted have profoundly influenced liberation politics and race discourse-in South Africa and around the globe-ever since.

    Tracing the linked histories of Black Consciousness and its most famous proponent,Biko's Ghostexplores the concepts of unity, ancestry, and action that lie at the heart of the ideology and the man. It challenges the dominant historical view of Black Consciousness as ineffectual or racially exclusive, suppressed on the one side by the apartheid regime and on the other by the African National Congress.

    Engaging theories of trauma and representation, and icon and ideology, Shannen L. Hill considers the martyred Biko as an embattled icon, his image portrayals assuming different shapes and political meanings in different hands. So, too, does she illuminate how Black Consciousness worked behind the scenes throughout the 1980s, a decade of heightened popular unrest and state censorship. She shows how-in streams of imagery that continue to multiply nearly forty years on-Biko's visage and the ongoing life of Black Consciousness served as instruments through which artists could combat the abuses of apartheid and unsettle the "rainbow nation" that followed.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4430-2
    Subjects: Art & Art History, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction: Let’s Talk about Consciousness
    (pp. xiii-xxviii)

    APPROACHING HISTORY THROUGH THE LENS OF VISUAL CULTURE ENABLES us to see how meaning is made through intersecting paths of analysis. South African visual culture in and around Black Consciousness and its foremost spokesman, Bantu Stephen Biko (1948–1977), begs our consideration from multiple vantage points. This is a book that interweaves their histories by combining the fields of art history, political science, media studies, and post/anticolonial theory to uncover how these two entities—an ideology on the one hand and the man popularly honored as its “father” on the other—have held influence these past forty years. These disciplinary...

  5. 1 Shaping Modern Black Culture in the 1970s
    (pp. 1-46)

    THE MEN WHO FIRST FORMULATED THE IDEOLOGY OF BLACK CONSCIOUSNESS did so in the period leading up to July 1967.¹ Soon before, in the eastern half of a large territory then called the Cape Province, students at tertiary schools eagerly consumed and discussed news of liberation movements elsewhere in the world. At Fort Hare, the nation’s most famed black university, talks were frequent about anticolonial and anti-imperialist struggles in Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, the United States through the Black Power and civil rights movements, and, above all, Vietnam, where “the battering of the American giant in the jungles” satisfied.² At St....

  6. 2 Of Icons and Inquests: “Steve Biko, God Be with You, BPC”
    (pp. 47-86)

    STEPHEN BIKO’S GLOBAL STATURE WAS EVIDENT BUT MODEST BEFORE HIS death. This quickly changed. When he died in police custody on September 12, 1977, his image was printed around the world. In nearly all international reports, Black Consciousness, the philosophy for which he had died, became secondary to the abuses of the South African police, the symbol of which he became. Through his likeness a new spotlight was cast on South Africa’s abusive Terrorism Act, portions of which allowed political activists to be held incommunicado, without charge and without access to anyone outside the state. Within South Africa, Biko’s prominence...

  7. 3 Contemplating Death: Artists and Abjection
    (pp. 87-116)

    AS CHANCE WOULD HAVE IT, STEVE BIKO’S DEATH COINCIDED WITH THE FIRST art exhibition about torture in detention that was shown in South Africa. The works were by Paul Stopforth, then senior lecturer in fine art at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Just one week after Biko’s death, the exhibition opened at the Market Theatre Complex, a now historic not-for-profit arts venue. The art on display immediately became linked to Biko’s particular history, even though the artist repeatedly insisted that he worked to raise consciousness about the larger problem of detainee death and torture. In South African art...

  8. 4 Creating a Culture of Resistance
    (pp. 117-146)

    ON OCTOBER 19, 1977, A LITTLE MORE THAN ONE MONTH AFTER STEVE BIKO died at the hands of Port Elizabeth police, the South African government banned nineteen Black Consciousness (BC) organizations and began detaining BC adherents.¹ Although the movement had faced intense suppression since 1973, it was seriously damaged by the state in the last quarter of 1977. Since then, the widespread assumption has been that Black Consciousness became ineffectual. Some say that it waned in influence; others believe that it “evolved” to embrace a nonracialist position in which all people who sought the end of apartheid could participate, regardless...

  9. 5 Silencing the Censors: Black Consciousness between the Lines in the 1980s
    (pp. 147-190)

    ALTHOUGH SOUTH AFRICA LONG MAINTAINED A CULTURE OF SILENCE, ITS “culture of censorship,” as Christopher Merrett calls it, reached a highpoint in the mid-1980s just at the full flourish of its “culture of resistance,” a favored phrase on the ground.¹ In the early 1970s, Black Consciousness advocates argued that culture should be used to resist dominance of all sorts, and through the mid-1970s some among them created spaces for artists to learn and exhibit their work. The spaces were physical and conceptual. Best known among them today is the Mihloti Black Theatre Troupe, a BC body that mostly performed in...

  10. 6 Transitions and Truths in a New Democracy
    (pp. 191-240)

    SOUTH AFRICA’S TRANSITION FROM APARTHEID TO DEMOCRACY WAS LONG IN coming. When the doors of a new era publically opened on February 2, 1990, South Africans began an intensive period of negotiation at all levels, public and private. In one sphere, former rivals—the National Party (NP) and the African National Congress (ANC), newly unbanned—undertook talks toward a settlement of interests. These were derailed by intensified violence and proof of the NP’s collusion in fueling it, but eventually negotiations brought change.¹ Negotiations in the public arena, for instance, took place among interest groups of wide range and affiliation that...

  11. 7 Museum, Monument, Marking: Black Consciousness in the New Millennium
    (pp. 241-272)

    AS THE TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION ENABLED PUBLIC WITNESS of apartheid era violations of the body, which are always profoundly personal and deeply experienced over time for those who suffer them, other discourses developed in the 1990s that sought to heal the larger body politic as it embraced democracy. The need to narrate was distinct. One such story shared a unifying, pluralistic vision with the nation cast as a rainbow, wherein eleven distinct bands (one for each of South Africa’s constitutionally recognized languages) enjoyed equal status. Lines between were a bit blurred, as one would expect of a nation newly...

  12. Epilogue: “After Such a Long Time His Life Is Still Dug Out”
    (pp. 273-276)

    WHEN STEVE BIKO’S MOTHER, A WOMAN KNOWN AS MAMCETE TO HER FAMILY, combined English and Xhosa to describe the world’s lasting interest in her son, her words captured the often difficult work of translation. Digging out the full register of Biko’s influence and that of Black Consciousness is a tremendous task, and this book only partially fills one of several holes, that of the visual. As Black Consciousness is an ideology with lasting impact, taken up by individuals through time to underscore their beliefs, its history will stretch beyond our time, beyond any single generation. Mrs. Biko’s words reflect on...

  13. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  14. Acknowledgments: I Write What I Must
    (pp. 277-280)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 281-334)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 335-352)
  17. Index
    (pp. 353-368)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 369-370)