Original Research

The diary of Bertha Marks as a heterotopia, as articulated in the artwork, The Futility of Writing 24-Page Letters

Leora Farber, Elfriede Dreyer
Literator | Vol 33, No 1 | a29 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v33i1.29 | © 2012 Leora Farber, Elfriede Dreyer | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 12 July 2012 | Published: 13 November 2012

About the author(s)

Leora Farber, Research Centre, Visual Identities in Art and Design, Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, University of Johannesburg, South Africa
Elfriede Dreyer, Department of Visual Arts, University of Pretoria, South Africa


This article explored the conception, historical context and theoretical underpinnings of Leora Farber’s 2010 artwork entitled The Futility of Writing 24-Page Letters, which forms an extension of the work on her exhibition entitled Dis-Location/Re-Location. The Futility of Writing 24-Page Letters falls within Dis-Location/Re-Location’s thematics, but focuses on one aspect thereof, namely, how fin-de-siècle Jewish colonial women who were immigrants to southern Africa, as exemplified in the persona of Bertha Marks (1862–1934), experienced nineteenthcentury Victorian gender ideologies. Their life experiences often entailed resistance to their positions as subjects of a patriarchal social system; yet, as women, they were simultaneously complicit in upholding discriminatory colonial ideologies and in maintaining the racial,social and cultural prejudices and forms of subjugation that underpinned them. Bertha Marks is shown to have occupied a personalised heterotopia: whilst operating from within, and maintaining the racial and social prejudices of the colonial era, she was simultaneously constrained by her positioning within it. This heterotopic life experience is reflected in the diary extracts which comprise The Futility of Writing 24-Page Letters, which reveal that she occupied the conflicting positions of victim, witness, bystander, collaborator and beneficiary of colonial injustices and exploitation, and assumes varying degrees of co-responsibility and co-liability for her roles and actions.


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