Cobus van Bosch    

From Die Burger
March 2000

Bitter parody transformed
into subtle piety

Melvyn Minnaar

EXHIBITION: SLAG, works by Cobus van Bosch. At the Mark Coetzee Fine Art Cabinet, 120 Bree Street, Cape Town. Until 8 April.

THE multiple meanings of the title, even in a metaphorical sense as “useless remnant”, draw a kaleidoscope of melancholy, needless violence and guilt neatly together into what lies buried here, so quietly, but complex, as if beneath soldier’s gravestones.     

After the blow served to heart and conscience during those bitter years of military power – when the apartheid state in its self-assurance, and at its most formidable recognised or honoured no boundary, resistance or reason –Van Bosch transforms with this compact installation these once-so-potent symbols, insignia and marks into relics, now muzzy and powerless, but piercing in memory.

Three times nine squares – mainly clad in lead (resonating of coffins returning from the border, or secrets which need to be kept) and each the size of a humble tombstone – are formally arranged in a space for reflection.  

On the floor are coarse gravel, empty cartridges and a graveyard path. Low on the floor, illuminated by faint little lights, the viewer is uncomfortably forced to read the representations. The physical situation and process force the visitor to linger if he or she wants to understand and experience.  

The layout refers to the classic and formal structure of war cemeteries, but also comments on the fascist architecture with which the apartheid regime claimed these places of the dead for the benefit of their power games (the cemetery in Simons Town, and concentration camp memorials at Bethulie and Aliwal North).

A variety of media, ranging from finely painted images to polished shell casings (how boldly were those army trophies presented in suburban display cabinets!), from newspaper cuttings to school cadet insignia, and materials with a strong symbolism, such as marble and bronze, find their own forceful expression in each individual piece.

Those treasures with which the foot soldier exorcises his mortality in the field are employed in the small monuments. Dagga (marijuana), a means of survival, illustrated as a mourning-band, stands in opposition to the instigating but implicitly fatalistic cries such as “rather dead than in enemy hands”.

In other hands these elements could easily be employed as parody and bitter satire (the portrait of PW Botha as comical icon), but Van Bosch’s workmanship polishes each component into its precise and subtle position. He succeeds in embedding the works’ true monumental meaning (human commemoration, piety and remembrance) into each piece.  

Slag speaks loud and direct, but the melancholy keeps lingering, like the collective guilt trapped in South African history and culture.



From the series Slag, lead, paint

and found objects.





Detail of the installation Slag.






View of the installation Slag.















Uit Die Burger
Maart 2000

Bitter parodie
gevorm tot
subtiele piëteit

Melvyn Minnaar

TENTOONSTELLING: SLAG, werke deur Cobus van Bosch. By die Mark Coetzee Fine Art Cabinet, Bree Straat 120. Tot 8 April.

DIE veelvuldige betekenisse van die titel selfs metafories, as Engelse woord, soos in nuttelose oorblyfsel trek die kaleidoskoop van melancholiek, nodelose geweld en skuld suiwer saam in wat hier so stil-stil, maar kompleks, soos onder soldate-grafstene begrawe lê.

Ná die slag wat die gemoed en gewete toegedien is in daardie bitter jare van militêre mag toe die apartheidstaat selfversekerd, en op sy mees formidabele, geen grens, teenstand of rede erken of eerbiedig het nie, omvorm Van Bosch met hierdie kompakte installasie die eens so potente simbole, kentekens en merke tot relieke nou suf en magteloos, maar priemend in die herinnering.

Hoofsaaklik met lood beklee (met die resonansie van doodskiste wat van die grens terugkom, van geheime wat bewaar moet bly), het hy in die kunslokaal drie maal nege vierkante, elkeen die grootte van 'n beskeie serk en anders bewerk, formeel uitgepak in 'n ruimte vir bepeinsing.

Op die grond is growwe gruis en koeëldoppies en 'n kerkhofpaadjie. Laag op die vloer, elkeen met 'n yl liggie belig, word die kyker-ervaarder ongemaklik gedwing om die voorstellings te lees. Die fisieke situasie en proses verplig die besoeker om te vertoef as hy of sy wil verstaan en meemaak.

Die uitleg verwys na die klassieke, formele struktuur van oorloggrafte, maar opper ook kommentaar oor die fascistiese argitektuur waarmee die einste regime destyds dié plekke van die dooies vir hul eie magspel opgeeis het (begraafplaas Simonsstad, konsentrasiekamp-gedenkplekke by Bethulie, Aliwal-Noord).

'n Verskeidenheid van media van fyn geskilderde prente tot blink gepoleerde kanondoppe (hoe fors het daardie army-trofeë nie in voorstedelike vertoonkaste gepronk nie!) van koerantknipsels tot skoolkadet-insinjes en materiale met sterk simboliese inslag soos marmer en brons vind in elke individuele stuk sy eie dwingende uitdrukkingsmoontlikheid.

Daardie kleinode waarmee die voetsoldaat sy eie sterflikheid in die veld besweer, word ingespan in die klein monumente. Dagga, middel tot oorlewing, wat 'n rouband uitbeeld, staan in teenstelling met opruiende, maar implisiet fatalistiese spreuke soos ``Liewer dood as in vyand se hand.''

Onder ander hande sal hierdie elemente maklik vir parodie en bitter satire ingespan kan word (die P.W. Botha portret as komieklike ikoon), maar Van Bosch se vakmanskap slyp elke onderdeel tot sy regte, subtiele posisie. Hy slaag daarin om sodoende die werke se ware monumentale betekenis (menslike nagedagtenis, piëteit en herdenking) in elkeen in te bed.

Slag praat direk, hard en duidelik, maar die weemoed draal lank agterna soos die kollektiewe skuld wat in Suid-Afrikaanse geskiedenis en kultuur vasgevang is.