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‘Blowing in the Wind’ – A Eulogy to Victims of GBV in South Africa

By Lindsey Raymond

Performance or ‘live art’, as described by choreographer, curator, academic and director of the Institute for Creative Arts (ICA), Jay Pather, ‘transcends disciplinary boundaries and aesthetic conventions[1].’ In the case of Carin Bester’s cross-disciplinary exhibition, She Had a Name 365, the subversive nature of performance acts as a tool to reflect on emotions of anger, injustice, resentment and state distrust. The show communicates the unsayable – the embedded and embodied social position of being a woman and/or femme in South Africa.

Carin Bester She Had a Name 365 performance installation
PHOTO by Lindsey Appolis

As I approached the exhibition space, a cornered-off section upstairs of Youngblood, I was confronted by a ghostly nude draped in soft white lace. Bester stood, anchored, in front of the cold light of a multi-screen projection that looped a compilation of her durational performance, She Had a Name 365, which sees Bester video record herself in three-hour intervals, daily, for a year. The result is a montage of varying states of exhaustion as the passage of time plays before one’s eyes. Each time, the artist reports the next statistical average of murders as recorded by the South African Police Service.

‘She had a name,’ she memorialises, eyes to the camera, followed by the next consecutive number. In front of Bester’s veiled spectre is an installation consisting of a looping sheet of paper suspended from a typewriter. The type reads: ‘She Had A Name – 144’ and beneath it, ‘She Had A Name – 145’ …146, 147, 148… To her left are posters sharing the contact details of non-profit organisations aiding victims of Gender-Based Violence, such as Mosaic, Rape Crisis and Philisa Abafazi Bethu. As well as emergency contacts from the Gender-Based Violence Command Centre.

Carin Bester She Had a Name 365 performance installation
PHOTO by Lindsey Appolis

It is integral to note that Bester stands as a position, a voice, and not the singular authority. In a recollection of how She Had A Name 365 began, she vividly describes walking past a news headline reporting the rape and murder of an 18-month old child who was close to her niece’s age at the time. Her heart broke for this small person who, so young in life, would have experienced such trauma. What further propelled Bester towards materialising her activism was how dumbfounded she was by the seemingly laissez-fair response by passersby completely desensitised or, more disturbingly, acclimatised to homicide and rape. This propelled Bester as an activist, performance artist, and empath to react in the way she knows how: through outreach, community building, volunteering, and archiving through live performance.

In as much as She Had a Name 365 is a beautifully poignant offering, it is also a call to action. Not only does Bester call for sustained activism, rather than performative activism for social capital, given the length of the performance, she also highlights the political and embodied nature of performance; where the body, with all of its intersections of experience and identity, is utilised as the primary material. Everything has a power relation and the body highlights this even more. Performance is an immediate and effective mode for addressing or redressing current politics. Bester furthers the political language of the exhibition with strategic imagery; multiple moving frames of her face, daunting in their numbers, recall a broadcast message or State of Emergency, while also giving a face to numeracy.

Carin Bester She Had a Name 365 performance installation
PHOTO by Lindsey Appolis

Bester further accentuates the body through the absence thereof. To the left of the projection three plaster-cast panties depicting varying stages of maturity – infancy, adolescence or young adulthood, and old-age – hang on an invisible washing line. This tender act of hanging laundry is oftentimes a ritual shared amongst generations of women in a family. However, in this context these sculptural replicas awaken a geographical fear caused by femicide in this country. Underwear seen in public and unworn, outside of its domestic context as laundry, is immediately associated to crime, rather than a misplaced object. Oftentimes, South Africans see these ‘delicates’ strewn, dirtied, discarded or torn at a site of violence. The nostalgia, innocence, security and practicality of these panties floating side-by-side are eroded and replaced with fear, insecurity, shame and panic.

Like the bows that accent them, these undergarments have shifted in association. The smallest pair belonged to a small child, a baby, and has a cartoonish, perfectly tied butterfly-shaped bow. The ‘medium-sized’ panty alongside it, could have been owned by a young girl between the ages of 12 and 18 and has a loosely tied ribbon bow – no longer animated, but more ‘grown-up’ and sensual or suggestive. Last in the row, the largest pair lays bare… stretched, worn in, and undesired, without a bow at all. These three embodied objects are ephemeral, blowing in the wind, like the many stories of women and femmes who have fallen victim to an entrenched patriarchal history and collective thinking.

Bester remembers these children, women, femmes and men beyond She Had a Name 365 as she continues to seek justice for their names and personhood.

Follow She Had a Name 365 on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter

Help Bester continue to create awareness about Gender Based Violence, Femicide and the oppression of womxn by visiting her Back a Buddy here.


[1] Pather, J & Boulle. 2019. C. Acts of Transgression: Contemporary Live Art in South Africa. NYU Press.

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