Visual Art Exhibition   .   Freedom?  .   Special Projects

Kathryn Smith, serialworks
"the lowercase," 2009

Proposal for an off-site project for Works and Places and the 3rd AiM Biennale at serialworks, Cape Town, South Africa:

Statement for "the lowercase":

"An insistent concern in my recent work focuses on places or locations that have been the sites of very specific, psychologically-motivated acts of violence and trauma. They are usually domestic spaces or suburban neighbourhoods that have been recast, particularly through media attention, by having played host to individuals who have perpetrated acts of violence, often for some years before the secret is uncovered or an arrest brings an end to their cruel private desires, acted out on the bodies of others.

My current concerns are insistently spatial in nature, looking specifically at various ‘architectures of trauma’, both above and below the ground. These include spaces created by individuals to hold others captive prolonged abuse, often for prolonged abuse and eventual death, or ad-hoc excavations for illicit burial in domestic spaces. These have become frequent stories in the media, each repeating similar patterns and details. I am curious as to what the recurrance of these narratives in the contemporary moment might point to.

Since 2007, I have been researching the case of Johannes Mouwers, a serial rapist arrested in 2006 for holding two girls, Nesia Mouwers and Rensie Schroeder, aged 4 and 14 respectively, in a burrow excavated from the bank of a river in the idyllic Hemel-en-Aarde (trans. ‘Heaven and Earth’) valley in the south-western Cape. The girls were held captive for 18 months. Mouwers abducted the two girls while on the run after an escape from an awaiting-trial cell, where he was being held for another crime. He was on the run for a total of 39 months, during which time he committed a series of other crimes in addition to the abduction. Mouwers claimed the younger girl was his biological daughter. It is perversely coincidental that the 14 year-old girl had been abducted from a nearby farm called Diepgat (trans.’deep hole’).

Specific details of this case have been reported differently in a range of media. Some of these variances are banal. Others may fundamentally change our understanding of these events and what motivated them. The spelling of both Mouwers’ first and surnames vary from report to report. He allegedly gained the confidence of the girls by informing them he was a soldier called Colin, on a secret mission to save the world and the burrow, furnished with basic albeit meagre amenities, was a safe haven. He used to cover his face with clay in an attempt to become invisible. He was known in the valley as Die Skim (trans. ‘the phantom’). And so on.

Mouwers was tracked by Director Jeremy Vearey, an ex-ANC underground operative and now station commander of the Mitchell’s Plain police station.

At the time of her rescue, Rensie would not speak of her experiences in anything louder than a whisper."

Kathryn Smith Cape Town 2009

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