Tracey Rose is a South African artist who lives and works in Johannesburg. Rose is best known for her performances, video installations, and photographs.

Artist's Statement

"Making work is a documentation of a journey – each stage, each process, each dilemma has to be worked through. At one time, I felt pressured to do a lot of things at the same time, but now, I want to take one step at a time. When you make an artwork, you're not just doing something at that moment, you're contributing to an entire history of artmaking."


Tracey Rose was born in 1974 in Durban, South Africa. She attended the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg in Fine Arts where she obtained her B.A. in 1996. She taught at Vaal Triangle Technikon, Vanderbijl Park, South Africa and at the University of the Witwatersrand. In February and March 2001 she was artist-in-residence in Cape Town at the South African National Gallery where she developed her work for the Venice Biennale 2001 curated by Harald Szeemann. Tracey Rose is represented in the US by Christian Haye of The Project.[1]

Since her mid-nineties graduation from the University of Witwatersrand, Rose has had an extremely busy few years internationally, as her CV shows. In much of her work in this time, Rose has investigated questions of gender and colour, often through the visual motifs of her own body and body hair. In Ongetiteld (Untitled), shown on 'Democracy's Images' at Bildmuseet in Umeå, Sweden in 1998, Rose again used surveillance cameras to film herself shaving off all of her bodily hair. In the catalogue, Rose describes this act as being "about both demasculating and de-feminising my body, shaving off the masculine and feminine hair. This kind of de-sexualisation carries with it a certain kind of violence. The piece is about making myself unattractive and unappealing. But what was disconcerting was that I suddenly became attractive to a whole different group of people. Perhaps there was not enough of a sense of penance and flagellation in the work."

For 'Graft', the Colin Richards curated show at the SANG on the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale, Rose presented Span I and Span II. In this, Rose sat with shaved head on a sideways TV displaying a closeup image of a reclining nude, a classic art history image. Head bent, Rose busied herself with knotting strands of her shaven hair. The bravura performance took place inside a glass cabinet. Rose says, "With my naked body on the TV, I wanted to negate the passivity of the action of the reclining nude. In doing the piece, I had to confront what I wasn't supposed to do with my body. The work is a cleansing act, a coming out. The knotting not only invokes the rosary beads of my childhood, but also the working with one's hands, and the meaning of this handiwork as a form of empowerment". In Span I, the complementary part of the piece, a red-overalled prisoner incised text on to the opposite wall of the gallery, memories from Rose's childhood, often dealing with the role that hair, how straight it was, how curly, and thus how it defined race, had played in her childhood. "The wall's a purge and a perversion of the idea of a lack of penance, where I become vindicated through the act of employing an ex-prisoner to 'perform' my confession."[2]


Tracey Rose, SUD-Salon Urbain de Douala 2010. Photo Roberto Paci Dalò

Rose's work responds to the limitations of dogma and the flaws in institutionalised cultural discourse. Her practice, which is known for centering on performance, also includes photography, video, and installation. Always evident in her work is the artist's insistence in confronting the politics of identity, including sexual, racial, and gender-based themes.[3] According to Jan Avgikos, "part of Rose's appeal is her fluid referencing of '60s and '70s performance art".

  • The Thinker, found object and text, 1996. A small reproduction of the sculpture The Thinker by Auguste Rodin used as a weapon in a family argument.[4]
  • Span I and Span II, 1997. The work was presented at the second Johannesburg Biennale in the show Graft curated by Colin Richards, 1997. The work was also presented at the Dakar Biennale in 2000.
  • Ongetiteld (Untitled). A video made with surveillance cameras in which she shaves off all of her body hair. The work was presented in Democracy's Images, Bildmuseet in Umeå in Sweden, 1998.
  • TKO, 2000.
  • Ciao Bella, 2001. The work was produced for the Venice Biennale 2001.
  • Lolita, 2001, lambda photograph, 120 x 120 cm.
  • The Kiss, 2001, lambda photograph.
  • Venus Baartman, 2001, lambda photograph, 120 x 120 cm.
  • Half A, 2003, digital print, 55 x 37.5 cm.
  • Lucie's Fur Version 1:1:1 – La Messie, 2003, lambda photograph, 148 x 102 cm.[5]
  • The Prelude The Gardenpath, 2006, DVD.

TKO (2000)

TKO is projected on a translucent screen; its images are hard to make out. A dark figure seems to be restlessly moving against a white background. A soundtrack records scuffling and a voice panting and groaning with growing intensity.

The performer is Mrs. Rose herself, filmed by four separate cameras as she works out with a punching bag; one of the cameras is embedded in the bag, which in part accounts for the film's vague movements. The impression of aggression and possible sexual violence is unmistakable, though what is happening is obscure. The technical knockout of the title is neither a victory nor a defeat but a matter of self-inflicted exhaustion.

The Felliniesque video Ciao Bella is on view in the upstairs gallery. Originally shown at the 2001 Venice Biennial, it's a stationary panorama in which several grotesque characters – again played by Ms. Rose – perform on a long altarlike tabletop. A schoolmarmish hostess comes and goes; a smiling blond nymphet in dead-white makeup flagellates herself; a woman, in an 18th-century wig spasmodically spoons out chocolate cake; a black, nude woman is put on display and eventually hanged.

Ms. Rose, who is based in South Africa, has tackled ideas of gender and race in interesting, sometimes audacious ways over the last few years. On the evidence of this show, her forms are rapidly growing more sophisticated, her images sharper, her thinking more complex – all of which bodes very well for the future of an artist still only in her 20s.[6]

Ciao Bella (2001)

Rose's photographic works only truly gain import when viewed in conjunction with the action that unfolds within the baroque-styled picture frame that surrounds her video installation, a tripped-out re-enactment of the Last Supper. The action in the video is at once anarchic and fun, haphazard and absurd. On the left screen Bunnie, a rubber-clad bunny girl, jumps up and down ceaselessly, while a black, Afro-styled mermaid sits contemplating her bubble-wrap tail. In the middle Marie Antoinette slices a chocolate cake and doles it out equally onto various plates. Confrontationally poised next to her is Cicciolina, the porn art vixen. Also competing for attention, on the left screen, is a very adult-looking Lolita, the perpetually hunched Saartjie Baartman, as well as a character ceaselessly punching herself in the face with her boxing gloves.

The totality of the action unfolds against a backdrop of changing colours. Starting out with red velvet curtaining, the colour bleeds, meandering through changing intensities of blue, followed by a black and white stencil-type backdrop, before ending with the red curtains again. The red curtains are quite apt. The first words spoken in the video are Shakespearian, a quote from The Merchant of Venice, which references that well-known adage about the world being a stage, all the men and women on it merely players.

Having set up her classical milieu, Rose allows the action to meander playfully. Characters disappear and reappear, the visible parameters of the stage merely one of their playgrounds. The visual discord finally gains momentum when Bunnie executes some of the players with her shotgun. It is left for the primly dressed Mama character to clean up the mess, including giving the bloodied screen a wipe-down.[7]

The Kiss (2001)

The Kiss is a photograph of a naked black man and a naked white woman. The man is Rose's American art dealer; the woman, with the filigreed fulsomeness of a pre-Raphaelite figure, is Rose herself. The man is seated on a plinth, back upright, head in contemplative profile, lithe legs dangling in mid-air. The woman lies across him, an odalisque with legs and arms in a delicately tangled flutter. If there is lightness in the man's airborne feet, there is also a weightedness and, in his profile, the worn exhilaration of a black man's victory. The profile is strikingly marmoreal, though the self-awareness of the man adds that quicksilver quintessence. The woman, meanwhile, has a gamine-like shyness; her fluttering is also a kind of shudder. There is pleasure, there, in the making of that scene, pleasure and a fresh awakening.

Irrespective of the self-consciousness of the image, irrespective of the element of pastiche, what lifts the image above and beyond the influences and constraints that shape it is that sense of pleasure, of laughter, that lightness. Thereby, through laughter, through what Roland Barthes's famously termed jouissance or bliss, the iconic or representational quality of the work dissolves or, at least, is strategically foregrounded yet kept in abeyance. If the work is about race, about gender, it is also about something far greater: love. By this I mean that Rose has not only shown us the obvious, but through the obvious – racial conflict and sexual difference – she has managed to point a way forward. This way eschews the pathological and perverse, which conceives of South Africa not as a place that is irresistible and unlovable but, all the more profoundly, as a place that is resistible and lovable. For Rose this resistance assumes a reflexive turn: it shows the object of critique, then approaches it at a glance. This glance, like the playful hooded eyes of the woman in The Kiss, is loaded in its seeming frivolity. That the work possesses a populist appeal, and, at the same time, is able to assist us in rethinking the pathology of our history, makes it all the more significant and durable.[8]


According to Sue Williamson,[4] "Tracey Rose is not a practitioner who jumps at every curatorial opportunity offered her, and has been known to withdraw from more than one exhibition if the circumstances have not seemed right." Rose's work has been widely exhibited in Africa, Europe and the United States. Recent solo exhibitions include "The Cockpit" at MC, Los Angeles, CA, "Plantation Lullabies" at Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa, both in 2008.

Recent group exhibitions include "El mirall sud-africà" at the Centre De Cultura Contemporània De Barcelona, Spain, "Mouth Open, Teeth Showing: Major Works from the True Collection" at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, "Memories of Modernity" in Malmo, Sweden, "Check List: Luanda Pop" at the African Pavilion in the 52nd Venice Biennale, Italy, "Heterotopias" at the Thessaloniki Biennale in Greece, and "Global Feminisms" at The Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art in Brooklyn, New York (all 2007), and the 11th Lyon Biennale "A terrible beauty is born" in 2011.

Caryatid & BinneKant Die Wit Does and Imperfect Performance: A tale in Two States are among her most recent live performances, seen at the Düsseldorf Art Fair in Germany, and the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden, respectively. In 2001 Rose was also included in "Plateau de l'humanite" in the 49th Venice Biennale curated by Harald Szeemann.

Solo exhibitions

  • The Project, New York, 1999
  • The Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, 2000
  • The Project, New York, 2000
  • Ciao Bella, The Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, 2002
  • The Project, New York, 2002[9]
  • The Project, New York City, 2004
  • The Thieveing Fuck and the Intagalactic Lay, The Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, 2004
  • The Project, New York City, NY, 2007
  • Plantation Lullabies, The Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, 2008
  • The Cockpit, MC Kunst, Los Angeles, 2008
  • Raison d'être, Espace doual'art, Douala, 2009

Group exhibitions

  • Scramble, Civic Theatre Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa, 1996
  • Hitch-hiker, Generator Art Space, Johannesburg, South Africa, 1996
  • Graft-Trade Routes History and Geography, (catalogue) 2nd Johannesburg Biennale, South African National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa, 1997
  • 50 Stories (co-curator), "Top of Africa" Carlton Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa, 1997
  • Cross/ings, (catalogue) Museum of Contemporary Art, Tampa, USA, 1997
  • FNB Vita Awards, (catalogue) Sandton Art Gallery, Johannesburg, 1997
  • Purity and Danger, Gertrude Posel Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa, 1997
  • 7th Triennale der Klienplastik, (catalogue) Europe Africa, SudwestLB Forum, Stuttgart, Germany, 1998
  • Guagrene Arte 98, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo per l'arte, Turino, Italy, 1998
  • Democracy's Images, (catalogue) Photography and Visual Art After Apartheid, Bildmuseet, Umea, Sweden, 1998
  • Dark Continent, Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees, Oudtshoorn, South Africa, 1998
  • Art of the World 1998, (catalogue) Passage de Retz, Paris, France, 1998
  • Video Cult/ures ZKM, Museum fur Neue Kunst, Karlsruhe, Germany, 1999
  • Channel, South African National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa, 1999
  • Dialog: Vice Verses, (catalogue) Europe Africa, SudwestLB Forum, Stuttgart, Germany, 1999
  • 2000 ArtPace, San Antonio (residency)
  • documenta 14 exhibition, Athens, Greece and Kassel, Germany, 2017[10]


  1. ^ The artist profile on Artfacts.
  2. ^ ArtThrob
  3. ^ "Art of Africa: The 50 best African artists". The Independent. Independent News and Media Limited. 1 December 2006. Retrieved 30 April 2009.
  4. ^ a b Sue Williamson, A feature on an artist in the public eye: Tracey Rose in "Artthrob", n. 43, March 2001.
  5. ^ Tracy Murinik, The Gospel of Tracey Rose in "Art South Africa", v2.4, June 2004. The cover image of the magazine is a work by Tracy Rose.
  6. ^ Art in Review, New York Times
  7. ^ ArtThrob Review
  8. ^ Jamal, Ashraf. "The Bearable Lightness of Tracey Rose's "The Kiss"" A Decade of Democracy: South African Art 1994–2004: From the Permanent Collection of Iziko, South African National Gallery. Cape Town: Double Story, 2004. 102-09. Print.
  9. ^ Holland Cotter, Art in review: Tracey Rose in "The New York Times", 31 May 2002.
  10. ^ "Tracey Rose". Retrieved 23 March 2019.


  • Sue Williamson, A feature on an artist in the public eye: Tracey Rose in "Artthrob", n. 43, March 2001.
  • Tracey Rose: Fresh, edited by Kellie Jones and Emma Bedford, South African National Gallery, 2003.
  • Emma Bedford, Tracey Rose in 10 years 100 artists: art in a democratic South Africa, ed. Sophie Perryer, Struik, 2004.
  • Tracey Murinik, Tracey Rose: plasticienne, Les Carnets de la création, Carnets de la création: Afrique du sud, Éditions de l'Oeil, Paris, 2005.
  • Pensa, Iolanda (Ed.) 2017. Public Art in Africa. Art et transformations urbaines à Douala /// Art and Urban Transformations in Douala. Genève: Metis Presses. ISBN 978-2-94-0563-16-6

External links