Dominic Thorburn

Dominic Thorburn
Rhodes University, South Africa


Dominic Thorburn is Chair of Fine Art at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa, where he also presently heads the Printmedia Section. Professor Thorburn has exhibited extensively both within South Africa and globally and is broadly represented in museum, corporate, and private collections. He has presented papers at numerous international conferences and is also widely published. Initiator of the Fine Line Press at Rhodes University, thereby establishing the only institution based printmaking press and research unit in South Africa. In 2008 Dominic was awarded an Amnesty International Social Change Award in recognition of his extensive advocacy and community engagement within the arts. Thorburn is a member of the Impact Steering Committee and was co-convenor of the 3rd Impact International Printmaking Conference held in Cape Town, South Africa in 2003.

Academic Paper

BORDERLINE – Sweeping a Mind Field
The history of Africa, and indeed Southern Africa, is integral to global exploration and intertwined with loaded issues of land, property and ownership. Universally land remains one of the most contested issues concerning disputes of access and conflict of occupation. Borders appear unavoidable – they are formed, opened, closed, regulated, limited, extended, crossed, and cancelled. These margins, or porous borderlines, are pertinent print metaphors and also offer an apt introduction to this paper.

From 1967 until 1993 almost all able-bodied white South African men were called up for compulsory National Service – this was an enforced military conscription of two years and impacted the lives of all males of 18 years or older; in the region of 600 000 men – over half a million! They were put through demanding physical and military skills training in addition to mental ‘ideological orientation’, and during this period were deployed to fight in South Africa’s so-called ‘Border War’ – literally on the geographic borders of Northern South West Africa and Southern Angola, and often as insurgent aggressors entering these neighbouring countries while conducting cross border raids and military operations.

The Border War has in many ways become ‘disremembered’ in post-Apartheid South Africa, as remembering this ‘silent war’ during a post conflict period would mean engaging in a demanding dialogue and struggle to reconcile the ideologies, propaganda, trauma, heroism and racism. This denial has however recently given way to an upwelling of exciting creative material concerning this critical point in the country’s history. Until now few veterans dared break the silence and talk about their experiences and thereby contribute their micro-histories to a new and reconciled shared history.
This paper will focus on two contemporary South African visual artists, Christo Doherty and Paul Emmanuel, who have faced this past and its current impact on present day psyche – not necessarily as catharsis or to find closure, rather to open necessary dialogue and continuing conversations.