Claire Rousell

21st September – 18th October 2009

“This is where we live, she told herself, that is our Africa. But it
was too far away to feel anything much”

(Boehmer 1993: 127).

Claire’s work looks at ideas around belonging, self-sufficiency and the tensions that continue to exist between Britishness and being South African. She explores these issues using a variety of media including clothes design, leatherwork, installation and photography.


As a South African of British descent, what do you retain of your Britishness and how do you adapt to living in Southern Africa? Or, do you train the landscape to adapt to your presence? And how does this process take place?

I am making this work in order to satisfy a craving to be wrapped in maps, wrapped in the landscape. On venturing further I found that this desire is entangled with many questions I have about the relationships we are capable of having with the places we live in. These questions trigger further questions I have about colonisation, gender, gendered landscapes, how we construct landscapes and how they construct our identities.

The corset I am wearing is designed and made in collaboration with South African designer, Carlo Gibson of Strangelove.


The installation began as a search for the objects required for a tool kit for the colonies. If you were leaving England for the “New World” what would you take with you to be self sufficient in unknown terrain? This is an ongoing project but at the moment it is something of a treasure box to help me to survive in this terra incognita.


In this work I am trying to understand my own feelings of unbelonging and isolation in relation to landscape. I have made three photographs. Each shows one of my female relatives, much younger than they are now, in a passport size photograph placed on a map of an area they would have known well. The women sit at the centre of the network of roads and train lines around the town they lived in for all of or a substantial portion of their lives.

These images are made up of several layers-the maps; the photographs, the embellishment with hair, needles, text and the borders. I feel like the layers that make up who I am and where I have come from (ie South African mother with English & Irish ancestors, English father, I was born in Zimbabwe, where members of my family still live, etc.) can no longer be extricated from each other, if they ever could. It is too late to make essentialist statements like- I am South African. I am English. Colonisation and now globalisation refigure those definitions, weaving them in a network of unequal privilege, complicity and acceptance, if not belonging, as such.

These pieces are about a very intimate journey but they also relate to the wider politics of the continuing relationship between Britain and her former colonies, our relationships to our environment and the ways we define ourselves and each other.

The work in progress…

Claire Rousell, Work in Progress

In Collaboration with Carlo Gibson of Strangelove…



Strangelove is an art and fashion collective based in South Africa:

Facebook Group: Corsetry in South Africa

Photographer: Sarah Ogley-Uphill.

Developmental drawings…




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