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Dipti Bhagat
Art Deco in South Africa

Book chapter

Art Deco 1910-1939
Editors: Charlotte Benton, Tim Benton, Ghislaine Wood
V&A Publications
ISBN: 1851773878


Chapter title: Art Deco in South Africa (pp. 418-425)

This chapter was commissioned as a contribution to the publication Art Deco 1910-1939, which contextualized and extended the V&A exhibition of the same title in 2003.

The chapter resulted from doctoral work - The Poetics of Belonging: Exhibitions and the Performance of White South African Identity 1886-1936 (University of London, 2002) and a research seminar presented to the London Group of Historical Geographers at the IHR in January 2002, which was inter-disciplinary in approach, drawing on cultural geography, design history and post-colonial discourse.

Poster of the 1936 Empire Exhibition, Johannesburg. Colour lithograph, South African, 1936, © Africana Library, Johannesburg

Based on close archival study of South African material and visual culture of the 1920's and 1930's, this essay presented Art Deco in South Africa through a focus on the 1936 Empire Exhibition in Johannesburg, previously underrepresented in design histories and exhibition histories.

While the chapter contributed to the anthology’s intentions to reveal the global reach of Art Deco as a style, it also argued for design historical attention to be paid to the agency of imperialism in this cultural history. This essay considers how performative sites of design and material culture were mobilised by South Africa to assert its particular white, national, self-imagination, locking into an international style, which enabled it to be distinct from Europe and to occlude local, black subjectivity.

Publicity issued for the 1936 Empire Exhibition, Johannesburg. Paiter’s Pie Magazine, 1936, © Africana Library, Johannesburg

The essay’s inter-disciplinarity and its attention to the co-constitutive relationship of design and place is developed in my three other outputs.

Following on from this publication, I was invited to present a lecture on Art Deco in South Africa as part of study day that accompanied the exhibition Art Deco 1910-1939 at the Victoria & Albert Museum in July 2003, details of which can be found here.

please also refer to hardcopy item for this output.

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