‘Deconstructing Dogma’: Transgressive religious iconography in South African art

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In this article I present a brief theoretical overview of the history of religious imagery and iconoclasm as a background for the works that are displayed in the exhibition ‘Deconstructing Dogma’, held at the University of Johannesburg's Art Gallery from 6–28 May 2014. I explain the strength of feeling ascribed to images that are considered sacred, with the result that they comprise a perfect vehicle for parodic quotation in post-modern terms, leading to a disruption of complacent viewing. The long history of values, idealistic role models and didactic instruction inherent in Christian imagery is thus exposed in such a way as to encourage questioning of how those values may still be informing contemporary social behaviour. A close iconographic analysis of selected examples from the ‘Deconstructing Dogma’ exhibition illustrates the way the chosen artists respond to a broad range of contemporary social ills in South Africa, using art-historic Christian imagery directly or alluding to characters and stories from the Bible. Whatever form the work takes, whether direct parody of specific works or parodic reference to types, this self-reflexive mode of art-making engages both the past and the present in what is often a critical response to both. This article thus presents a rationale for the transgressive quotation and parody of Christian imagery in post-apartheid South African art that responds timeously to current social injustice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-65
Number of pages27
JournalDe Arte
Issue number89
Publication statusPublished - 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies


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