Whitespeak: How Race Works in South African Art Criticism Texts to Maintain the Arts as the Property of Whiteness

  • Sharlene Khan
  • Fouad Asfour


This chapter critically analyzes South African art criticism texts by White writers, highlighting racialized tropes in speaking about black artists and their creative production. These texts present black artists as lacking and mimetic, maintaining the naturalization of European colonial “fine arts” values and geo-specific histories. We posit that bodily epidermalized speech acts are operationalized as White property and cultural capital. By framing visual arts discourse in its bodily materiality, the chapter aims to point out the interconnectedness between theory, materiality, and practice when it comes to understanding and evaluating creative works. It also argues that the reproduction of Whiteness validates a naturalized (White) system of “looking at art” and the discoursing about and teaching of visual arts/art history.


South African art criticism Art writing Whitespeak Race 


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Appendix: List of Analyzed Reviews

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sharlene Khan
    • 1
  • Fouad Asfour
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Fine ArtRhodes UniversityGrahamstownSouth Africa
  2. 2.Independent ScholarGrahamstownSouth Africa

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