Cobus van Bosch

Vergete Verledes (Lost Histories)

The history of South Africa is filled with incidents and realities which had great impact at the time, but which seem to be “forgotten” now, or overshadowed by later events such as the Anglo Boer War or the rise of organised black resistance.

The question this exhibition asks is whether those events are still of any importance today, while it also investigates whether the world, especially the human condition, has changed through the ages.

The paintings in Forgotten Histories focus, amongst others on episodes in the history of South African minority groups, such as the Nama, Griqua and other groups later collectively classified as “coloured”, as well as smaller groups such as the Bathlaping.

Some of these histories include the Bathlaping rebellion against colonists in the Kimberley area, the massacre of the Israelites at Bulhoek, the settlement of the Rehoboth Basters in Namibia and the Thirstland Treks from South Africa tot Angola and Namibia.

The series is strongly rooted in the portrait genre. The research, based on historical monotone photographs (19th century) from museum and library collections, is focused on body language and how it reflects the impact of traumatic events.

The works date from a time when photography was relatively new, and posing for portraits uncommon, especially amongst lesser privileged groups. There was barely an established culture of conduct in front of the camera, other than a very formal one, and certainly very little of current popular and politically inspired traditions of selfrepresentation. Due to the “serious” nature of early portrait photography, relatively few “spontaneous” 19th century photographs of people in “unguarded moments” exist today.

But still; isn’t there something to be read in the expressions and postures of people in the midst of early South African conflict between cultural groups and economic interests? Without the support of national liberation movements, international sympathy and especially news photographers and television cameras? And if these paintings do show emotion hidden beneath those layers of restraint, how much is really expressed by the subjects, and how much are attributed during the interpretation of the artist or even the viewer?


Click on thumbnails to enlarge


Cornelius Fredericks

Concentration camps


Langeberg rebellion





Fort England

Labour Corps




Pondo chiefs

Bechuanaland chiefs

Kgosi Toto


Robben Island