“Maqe II” is at first glance a romantic image of three diaphanous angels hovering in the luminous sky over a South African township. A closer inspection reveals that the apparition is the appropriated figure of Marie Antoinette from the artist’s Ciao Bella series (2001) with the addition of a butchered cake. The figure is Rose herself dressed in costumed made of trash bags holding a haunting paper mâché mask. The figure floating above a crossing of two sharp metal traffic barriers and the triple-exposed view of tract houses piled upon one another in a Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) settlement evokes an eerie sense of both past and forthcoming catastrophes. The photograph, in conversation to the women referenced in the Ciao Bella Series, adroitly confronts the audience with the legacies of sexual, racial and political oppression. Rose successfully achieves this without tending towards self-conscious sentimentality. Whether the appropriated Marie Antoinette acts as a monarch of the RDP settlement or a symbol of a social system responsible for massive poverty and displacement, “Maqe II” is a significant contribution to the canon in its sophisticated reflection of contemporaneous identity.
Tracey Rose, (b. Durban, South Africa, 1974) is a multimodal performance artist employing photography and video in her subversive oeuvre that traverses post-colonial theory, gender, race and contemporary identity. The artist is known internationally for her interpretations of masterpieces of the western tradition—most notably for her appropriation of Leonardo da Vinci in Ciao Bella (2001) at the 49th Venice Biennale. While the artist has often been touted as offensive in her political directness, Rose’s work contributes to the creation of a contemporary canon of art history, one that is significantly perceptive in the acuteness of identity in the decolonizing process.