Public Memory, Private Truths

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This paper examines the role of visual narrative in the process of uncovering the truth through “remember[ing] what one most wants to forget” (Becker 2004: 117), and in giving voice to the previously voiceless. Focusing on two of the rural art-making projects which have emerged in South Africa since the early 1990s in response to the complex challenges of the post-apartheid era—the Amazwi Abesifazane initiative and the Mapula Embroidery Project—this paper examines the voices of women through visual narrative in dealing with issues of trauma, violence and HIV/AIDS, as well as the potential offered by visual culture for empowerment of these women within the context of the relationship of marginalization, poverty, and representation. By ensuring a continuous engagement with memory of history, both public and private, these women are enabling narrative expansion to the restrictive testimonial practices of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), thereby contributing towards filling in the ‘gaps and silences’ of South Africa’s contested past.