Produced in collaboration with Prof Tobias Barnard, Director, Water and Health Research Centre, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Johannesburg (May 2019, ongoing)


In this series, I use strains of naturally pigmented, pathogenic bacteria as a drawing medium. The Imagery, patterning and colour used in the drawings are taken from Dutch Delft patterns and those on English blue and white porcelain, as well as the Chinese porcelain designs from which these originated. Referencing the 17th century Dutch painting tradition, I look at Johannes Vermeer’s paintings of women in domestic contexts such as The Lace Maker (c.1669) and The Milkmaid (1658).


In making these drawings, I’ve been fascinated with Lorenzo Veracini’s (2014)[1] analogy between the growth patterns and characteristics of bacteria to the functioning of settler colonial systems. As Veracini contends, while both viruses and bacteria are exogenous elements that often dominate their destination locales, a crucial difference is that usually viruses need living cells to operate, while bacteria attach to surfaces and may or may not rely on the organisms they encounter. Similarly, while both colonisers and settler colonisers are exogenous elements that assert their dominance over their destination locales, a colonial system of relationships depends on the presence and subjugation of exploitable ‘Others’  (Veracini 2014:615-616).  An analogy between the growth patterns of viruses and colonialism can be drawn here, as viruses first attach to a host cell and then penetrate it in a way that is similar to how the colonial system depends on the subjugation of those deemed as other. Alternatively, while settler colonies might too depend on the subjugation and exploitation of indigenous peoples, they have more in common with bacterial colonies in that settler collectives attach to the land but generally do not need indigenous ‘Others’ for their reproduction and operation (Veracini 2014:615-616). 

[1] Veracini, L. 2014. Understanding Colonialism and Settler Colonialism as Distinct Formations. Interventions 16(5): 615-633.

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Photography: Anthea Pokroy